MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Eastview High School seniors Ashesh Rambuchan and Anna Underhill are putting the finishing touches on their applications due in February and March. This is after six months and dozens of essays after they first started their searches for college scholarships.
“College is really expensive, and especially when you have two older siblings that have gone through college,” Rambuchan said. “My parents said, ‘You really have to apply for scholarships to make it work.’”
Anna will apply for ten scholarships, each of which come with their own essay. She’s focusing on local and agricultural money, including a scholarship from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
“It can be daunting,” Underhill said.
Ashesh is looking at four scholarships to chip away at his hefty Princeton tuition.
“I also volunteer at Fairview Ridges Hospital, so they offer scholarships,” he said.
Both students started their search on the internet with a system called Naviance. It’s a free program for parents and students available in most Minnesota high schools.
Every year, as much as $3.5 billion are available in college scholarship money. Experts say students should start their search with local scholarships first.
Chris Franken, head of college planning at Eastview High School, says her community alone offers 100 scholarships every year – ranging from $500 to $2,500.
“We always encourage students to talk to their parents about their place of employment or if the student actually has a part-time job,” Franken said.
After the local search, Franken then recommends looking for state money. After that, she suggests researching options with the colleges themselves.
Anna’s a good example since she’s receiving $23,000 a year from Iowa State. In Minnesota, students can find similar state scholarships at getreadyforcollege.org.
Franken says a student doesn’t have to be among the smartest kids in the class to win a scholarship.
“Absolutely not. There are many scholarships where that isn’t even a factor,” she said.
Many of those scholarships can be found on free search engines like fastweb.com, where a student fills out a survey and it spits back hundreds of scholarship recommendations.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of finaid.org and Fastweb says you can increase your chances by applying for as many as you can.
“You should apply to every scholarship to which you’re eligible because there’s an element of luck, not just skill,” Kantrowitz said.
There are scholarships for community service as well as athletic and artistic talent. JIF Peanut Butter offers $25,000 to the elementary school student who makes the best peanut butter sandwich.
Duck Brand offers $5,000 to whoever makes the best prom dress out of duct tape.
“A lot of scholarships are for physical characteristics,” Kantrowitz said. “There’s one for tall people, one for short people.”
According to Fastweb, the average scholarship amount to those who apply is about $2,800 per year. But when it comes to the number of scholarships to apply for – counselors will tell you the sky’s the limit.
“If it’s a $500 scholarship and it takes a student one hour to complete the application, that’s a pretty good wage for an hour,” Franken said.
Experts say a student should never have to pay to find or apply for scholarships. And students should start looking as early as the 10th grade.
They also say full free rides are out there, but only .03 percent of students get them each year.