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College apps completed? Time to focus

  • Written by Shannon Michael, Features Writer

Did you hear that quiet, yet consistent sigh of relief heard across the land the last few days of December? It was the sound of high school seniors finally submitting their college applications before the January 1 deadline many schools set for regular decision admissions.

If you’re a senior, or a family with one residing in your home, the stress of deciding what colleges to visit, where to apply, fulfilling the SAT or ACT test requirements, filling out the applications, writing several essays and personal statements, and answering unusual questions so admissions personnel can make or break your future, is behind you. Whew!

It’s time to sit back, relax and wait until the admissions decisions start arriving in email inboxes and mailboxes in late March, right? Wrong!

Now is the time to focus on completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is due February 15, 2014, if you want to be fully considered for federal student loans, work-study, and grants. And, most college scholarships available locally have deadlines in February, March and April for those planning to start college in the fall.

While the senior student can complete many parts of the FAFSA, a lot of the data has to come from parents’ financial information in order to assess a student’s need for financial aid. With more than $150 billion in federal funds distributed to 15 million students each year, it’s well worth the parents’ and student’s time to complete the application and turn it in before the deadline. Failure to submit it by the mid-February deadline reduces a student’s opportunity to receive aid.

In addition to the FAFSA, some private universities also require completion of the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile, a much more detailed examination of a family’s financial situation. The financial aid applications required are listed on each university’s website.

To be prepared to fill out these forms, tax records for parents and students, along with financial statements from banks will be needed. As one wise parent described it, be prepared to bare your financial soul when filling out these forms if you hope to have your student receive aid.

On top of working on the financial aid applications, though, families should also have a good idea of which scholarships the senior student should be applying for and what the deadlines are.

Yes, the family should know, not just the student, if you really want to help your child’s chances of receiving a scholarship.

Here’s why: as parents you may have a full-time job plus caring for your family, but your senior student not only has a full-time job (school), but homework, extracurricular activities, maybe a part-time job, household chores, plus the time commitment needed for writing scholarship essays.

The Northshore School District’s 1,507 members of the Class of 2013 accepted over $8.1 million in scholarships when they graduated in June, according to the district’s website. With some time and effort, your student may also become a scholarship recipient.

The best way you can help your student is to help them narrow down the vast list of scholarships available to those for which they have the best odds of being considered. It can be overwhelming to see just how many scholarships are available.

When parents take the time to research which scholarships best fit their student’s goals, school, major, and interests, it frees up the student’s limited time to focus on applying for those scholarships.

Where do you begin to search for scholarships? The best place to start is with each university’s website where your student is applying. Many universities offer scholarships that require a separate application to the admission application. Some are for full tuition, some for being admitted into the school’s honors college, some may be for specific majors. Each school will provide information on their website.

The next place to search is on your student’s high school website.

The counseling center at each school should provide lists of scholarships. If your school doesn’t provide a list, look on the Northshore School District’s website under Student Information. And, even check other area high school websites to see if they post opportunities your student’s school or district doesn’t list.

For students in the Northshore area, over $1.2 million in scholarships are awarded each year to students through the Northshore Scholarship Foundation. With the wide variety of scholarships available, there’s sure to be at least a few worth applying for that will fit your student’s profile.

Next, get creative with your Internet searches. Does your student have a unique talent or skill? Participate in an unusual sport? Is your student a first-in-the-family to attend college? Search for scholarships related to your ethnic background, where you live, or even where your student does his or her banking.

Some search examples include: college scholarships for Washington state residents; college scholarships for King County residents; college scholarships for participants in community sports leagues, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts; or college scholarships for Boeing Employees Credit Union account holders.

Once you have the list of scholarships your student should consider applying for, create a spreadsheet or master list that includes deadlines and the requirements needed. Help your student set deadlines for working on each scholarship so each week’s priorities are clear on what needs to get done in order to submit the application by the deadline.

The hardest part for most students applying for scholarships is writing the essays often required. One essay may be adaptable, however, to more than one scholarship application.

Yes, it is a lot of effort, but the best way to look at it is if your student spends four hours writing an essay for a scholarship that awards a $1,000 scholarship, that comes out to being paid $250 an hour for that four-hour effort if they are selected. When looked at it that way, it can quickly become time well spent.

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Scholarship websites worth exploring

Some may require creating a student profile, which helps to highlight scholarships that best fit the student:

• www.ns-scholarship.org

The Northshore Scholarship Foundation’s application deadline is February 7, 2014.

• www.meritaid.com

Lists $11 billion in merit-based college scholarships available in the U.S.

• www.thewashboard.org

For Washington state students only, this site lists scholarships available to residents planning to attend college in Washington.

• www.fastweb.com

Offers a comprehensive list of scholarships available to high school freshmen through college undergraduates and even to adults returning to school.

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