How to help your child win more college scholarships

4 ways to encourage your child — and protect your retirement savings.

  • By Andrew Pentis,
  • MarketWatch
  • College Planning
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If you’re a parent looking for ways to pay for college without taking out student loans, convince your child to apply for scholarships.

Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for college without ruining your finances. And they don’t need to be repaid. You can find scholarship opportunities and free money for college from your state, your employer, or philanthropic organizations.

Comparing financial aid offers

How do you decipher which offer is best? These four steps can help.

Here are four ways you can encourage your student to start applying for scholarships.

1. Explain the benefits

For starters, explain to your child that every scholarship they earn means less money they’ll have to borrow.

Walk them through this scenario: Instead of $5,000 worth of scholarships for their freshman year, they’re forced to take out a $5,000 student loan. With a 10-year repayment term and 6.00% interest rate, they’ll be looking at repaying $6,661, according to our student loan payment calculator.

Show your child other ways they could benefit. A big scholarship could help them afford a school that would otherwise be out of their reach, for example. It could also strengthen their résumé if they hope to land a summer internship.

To ensure your student understands the potential benefits, share real-life experiences. You might tell the story of how you won scholarships, or how you regret not applying for more.

2. Offer your help

Scholarships do require a lot of legwork, from finding the opportunities to completing the applications. Also, unlike grants, scholarships are usually merit-based.

Because applying for scholarships can seem like a daunting task, offer your student the guidance they need to start.

Unless your child is near their high school graduation, you don’t necessarily have to prioritize scholarships by deadline. You could instead prioritize opportunities by:

  • Length of application: You and your child can start with the longest applications, such as those that call for personal essays and recommendation letters. Then, reuse those materials in other applications.
  • Financial award amount: You and your child might initially focus on scholarships with larger dollar amounts. That way, your child can cover their cost of attendance quickly.
  • Personal interests: Your child could apply for scholarships that reward students like them. If your student is an aspiring painter, for example, they can apply for art scholarships first.

Set up a spreadsheet with your student so that you can both track progress.

Never too late to try for aid

There are plenty of opportunities for students to get financial assistance.

They could even treat applying for scholarships as a weekly homework assignment. If your student equates scholarship applications with routine school assignments, they might be more likely to make time for them.

At some point, you’ll want to take the training wheels off and empower your student to take the reins. But make them aware that you’re always happy to help them brainstorm or troubleshoot. If you don’t feel equipped to be their scholarship helper, enlist the assistance of their high school guidance counselor.

3. Motivate your child with rewards

After applying for lots of scholarships with no immediate rewards, your child might suffer from burnout. At this point, you might want to consider motivating them with material rewards. Some possible incentives include:

  • Matching every dollar they earn via scholarship awards
  • Allowing them to skip chores
  • Purchasing an item on their wish list, such as a new phone

Ensure that the rewards are tied to winning scholarships, not applying for them. That’ll inspire your student to improve their scholarship applications instead of increasing their volume.

4. Boost your child’s spirits

Offering short-term rewards will only get you so far. It’s likely that your student will still have times when they don’t want to put in the effort. Maybe they’ve become disappointed with their lack of success.

Here’s where your experience as a parent will help the most. Boost their spirits by addressing their concerns.

You could tell them the story of Shay Spivey, a single mother who applied for 67 scholarships in her first year of hunting for gift aid. Spivey used the experience to improve her future applications. And over the next four years, she won about $100,000 worth of scholarships.

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Here's a rundown of tax-advantaged savings and financial aid plans.

If your student thinks they’re not winning scholarships because they have average grades, review all the other ways to win scholarships. They can stand out for their volunteering experiences, athletic achievements, or unusual skills or hobbies.

Point out what they’ve done well in and out of school. And pat them on the back when they highlight these successes on scholarship applications.

How scholarships fit in with other ways to pay for college

If you and your student are going to prioritize applying for scholarships, it’ll help to know how they fit into paying for college.

On Oct. 1 of your student’s final year of high school, they’ll complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The paperwork will call for your family’s financial information, such as income tax returns.

Then, the FAFSA will pump out an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is the estimated amount that you could afford to put toward your student’s cost of attendance.

Your EFC is important because it will determine how much need-based aid your student will be offered on college award letters from prospective schools. The letters will detail the amount of federal aid your child can receive in the form of grants, work-study opportunities, and loans. It’s possible that schools will offer your student a scholarship on their award letters.

Be your student’s counselor at home

Your child will have professional help while they figure out all the ways to pay for college. From their high school counselor to their college’s financial aid office, there’ll be adults in their ear offering scholarship help.

But you can strengthen your family’s college plan by being their initial support system. Offer advice and motivation to help your student win scholarships.

Reprinted with permission of Student Loan Hero.

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