Archive for Thursday, February 16, 2006

College-bound students seek free money

Persistence pays off in scholarship search

February 16, 2006

Activity in the counselor's office at Lansing High School starts picking up this time of year. As the sticker shock from the cost of higher education sets in, seniors come in looking for ways to pay for college.

"They'll start rolling in here pretty fast and furious," LHS counselor Kristie Wessel said.

With 85 percent of LHS seniors going on to college, demand is high for scholarships. The majority of those students fills out at least one scholarship application, Wessel said.

"They're realistic," Wessel said. "They know college is expensive and they have to do their part."

As deadlines loom for students trying to acquire extra funding, Wessel offered advice on how get results from those scholarship applications and essays.

APPLY EARLY

The first place to look for scholarships is from the school you'll be attending, Wessel said. It's best to apply to colleges early to get first crack at the scholarship pot, she said.

"If you haven't applied by March, you're limiting yourself" in terms of scholarship opportunities, Wessel said.

Kelsey Reed, an LHS senior, took Wessel's advice. She received a Bob and Marlene Whittaker Leadership Scholarship from the University of Kansas, where she will attend school this fall. The application included one essay of 250 words that Reed said took about 45 minutes to an hour to write.

"It really doesn't take that long to write most of the essays," she said.

For those who may have waited too long to take advantage of a school's scholarship availability, all hope is not lost. Wessel said many local scholarships have later deadlines, extending into April.

At LHS, students can find area scholarship opportunities in a file drawer in the counselors' office. The counselors try to make announcements when they receive new applications and when deadlines are approaching, Wessel said, which generally draws students into the office. But when that's not enough, "sometimes we physically hand things to kids," Wessel said.

Reed said she had found several scholarships to apply for through the school.

"Come in and ask Mrs. Wessel," she said. The counselors had helped her find scholarships that she would qualify for, Reed said.

Wessel said that's why counselors are there.

"The more they come in and talk to us, the better off we can help them," she said. Students don't need to make an appointment with the counselors at LHS, Wessel said. She said they often stop by before or after school or during lunch.

For parents who want to help, Wessel said one way was to help students become organized. For example, they can get a calendar or start a spreadsheet to keep track of deadlines. Many students also have folders to keep their applications together, she said.

Max Kozak, a senior at LHS, said he had applied for about 15 scholarships. To keep track of the applications, he puts each one in an envelope with a piece of paper on the front stating the deadline, he said.

LHS senior Lauren Griffen, who has applied for about 12 scholarships, said she preferred to input the deadlines into her Palm Pilot. Seeing what's coming up every day reminds her to finish the applications, she said.

PREPARE FOR ESSAYS

Parents also can offer to proofread a student's application. The majority of scholarship applications include at least one essay, Wessel said. Whether a parent, a counselor or an English teacher proofs the essay, Wessel said, it's important to make sure the student gets his point across and that the spelling and grammar is correct.

Wessel had a list of other tips for students writing the essays:

¢ Keep the audience in mind. That's the most important factor, Wessel said. Tailoring the essay to the group providing the scholarship may yield better results than sending a generic essay to multiple groups. For example, a group of retired teachers will look at an essay differently than a group of college fraternity members, she said.

"Consider what points each audience would be focusing in on and then make sure (you) address those points," Wessel said.

¢ Sell yourself in a unique and positive way. Try to stand out from the crowd - dozens or hundreds of students may be competing for the same scholarship.

¢ Capture the audience's attention so the reader wants to finish the essay. Use creative storytelling to showcase achievements.

¢ Allow adequate time to complete the application. For one that includes multiple essays, Wessel recommended starting two to three weeks ahead of time to at least think about what to write.

¢ Be honest. "Don't put anything that's not accurate because people can follow up on that," Wessel said.

JUNIORS: JUMP ON IT

As the pressure builds for seniors, Wessel said juniors and their parents often ask how they can get a head start on scholarships. Not many scholarships are available to juniors, she said, but the students can start researching colleges to find out their scholarship deadlines, compiling a list of their activities throughout high school and creating a resume. Even freshmen can start keeping track of activities and volunteer hours, Wessel said, which makes writing a resume easier.

If juniors really want to get ahead, Wessel said, they can start working on a personal statement and thinking about what they would write for general essay topics. And then, she said, they'll be prepared to start the scholarship hunt in earnest at the beginning of their senior year.

DON'T GIVE UP

Keeping everything in mind can get overwhelming, and Wessel noted that some students seem to give up applying when they get too busy. But the seniors who have been through it recommended perseverance.

"Do them all," Reed said.

Griffen and Kozak said they focused on applications with essays that interested them, which made them easier to write. Perusing Web sites such as FastWeb.com yielded more scholarships from which to choose.

"There's a lot out there," Kozak said.

Don't think that a scholarship isn't worth applying for if it has a smaller payout, Griffen recommended. Even if it's "only $500," several checks of that amount add up, she said.

Wessel agreed with her students' advice.

"Why give up free money if you don't have to? That's the bottom line."

¢¢¢

Common essay prompts

Lansing High School counselor Kristie Wessel listed some essay questions that pop up often on scholarship applications.

¢ Why do you deserve this scholarship?

This is one of the most common questions, Wessel said.

¢ What are your future plans?

¢ Give an example of a time you've used leadership.

"That's becoming a big one," Wessel said.

¢ Write a personal statement about yourself.

This open-ended question stumps a lot of students, Wessel said. She recommends that rather than listing accomplishments, students describe themselves as a friend would introduce them.

¢ List your strengths and weaknesses.

¢ "And then sometimes they're just really out there," Wessel said. Applications that ask for something like a review of the last movie you've seen may want an example of your writing or creativity.

When a question is unclear, Wessel recommended asking another person to read it and offer an interpretation. The counselors also can find out what the organization is looking for. "If we don't know, we're more than willing to ask," Wessel said.

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