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Reflections on our Hunt for College Scholarships
Sheryl Robel, 1/31/2013

Editor's Note from Susan Richman: I was so delighted to get an email recently from Sheryl Robel, a wonderful homeschooling mother I've known for years and years. Some of our kids were on homeschool volleyball teams together, and the Robel kids all took part in the Homeschoolers Writing Club that I offered for years. Sheryl was writing to share the very happy news that her youngest son, Ben, had just been named a winner in the state level of the Horatio Alger Scholarship program, earning $5000 towards the college of his choice. I looked into this particular scholarship-- the organization offers 50 of these $5000 scholarships to students in Pennsylvania. They are looking for students who "have exhibited integrity and perseverance in overcoming personal adversity and who aspire to pursue higher education." A family must also demonstrate financial needs in pursuing a college education for their student. The website further shares the values they seek to establish through their scholarship program: 

The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. Today, through its Members, the Association continues to educate our nation's young people about the economic and personal opportunities afforded them by the promise of the American free enterprise system. Through its scholarship programs, the Association encourages students to pursue their own version of the American Dream. While providing scholarship opportunities, Association Members mentor the Scholars and underscore the importance of service to others. The Members work directly to provide promising young people with the support, education and confidence needed to realize their aspirations.

After hearing this good news about Ben's honor, I emailed Sheryl to see if she would like to share her thoughts on encouraging kids to try for various college scholarships-- and I was delighted to hear right back from her! Many words of wisdom here! And above everything, be sure to look for scholarship opportunities that resonate with *your student*, that just seem to have his or her 'name written all over them.' 

One further thought-- although applying for scholarships can be a *lot* of work, and of course not every application will net a 'win', still putting in this dedicated time can also help our kids learn about follow-through, communicate effectively (and with a grateful heart!) with the adults asked to write recommendation letters, meet duedates right on time, develop their writing skills, and demonstrate resourcefulness and discernment.... all very valuable character qualities and skills to gain, even if the dollars don't come through each time. There might be more that is gained here than just the 'official' award! Also, know that many scholarship programs involve helping kids learn more about the whole financial aspect of attending college and more-- there are great newsletters, say, for the students interested in this Horatio Alger program, to guide them through the process and connect them with other great getting-ready-for-college resources. 

 So... now for Sheryl's thoughts on this process....

Reflections on our Hunt for College Scholarships

Just about ten years ago our eldest of seven children started looking at colleges and took her first PSAT.  And that is when I realized that we could have started our hunt for “outside scholarships” (ones that are granted from foundations and programs not associated with any particular school or university) much sooner.  To start with, I had no idea that the PSAT (which we had signed up to take just to warm up for the SAT) was also a scholarship competition.

Highly motivated because I had already missed one opportunity, I went to our local library and spent an afternoon scanning through a REALLY big book, which listed an overwhelming number of scholarships organized alphabetically, and I returned home quite overwhelmed.  I didn’t really have time for this kind of research project, but I also didn’t want to incur any debt for higher education.

Thankfully for us, Geneva College’s financial aid office made us aware of a very helpful tool called FASTWEB – a search engine that collects all kinds of information about your student and then sorts through the many options out there, giving you a list of scholarships for which they may be eligible to apply.  Even then the number to read through was daunting and my email box became overloaded with notices from FASTWEB; by the time our second child was ready to look at schools I had determined only to check out those that offered at least $500.00 – there simply wasn’t time in our schedules to investigate and apply for everything out there.

In the end, each of our college-bound homeschoolers earned some very nice scholarships in addition to those offered by the college itself.  I have listed here some of the programs we came across with larger rewards, but check out FASTWEB (www.fastweb.com), Scholar Snapp (www.scholarsnapp.org - lets you fill out one application that you can use on multiple scholarships!) and the college board’s very helpful tips on hunting for scholarships in an organized fashion (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/scholarships-and-grants/where-to-find-college-scholarships); they are all good places to start. And believe it or not, sophomore year is not too early (some programs offer prizes to students who are still in high school), and the scholarships our kids received had application deadlines of October 31 of their senior year.  Happy Hunting!

**** And if YOU have a scholarship story to share-- either about a good win or a scholarship that you think is especially meaningful for homeschool students or about the 'lessons to be learned' through applying for scholarship programs, please share! Thanks!!


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