One of the best ways for your teens to help prepare themselves to pay the costs of a college education  is to get a scholarship. As you and your teen prepare for college, it is important to cultivate different options for paying, from contributing to a 529 plan or some other investment account, to student loans, to free money. A scholarship can be a great way to get free money that can be used to defray the rising costs of a college degree .
However, it is important to note that scholarships, for the most part, don’t just come right to you. Your teen will need to start now to prepare to be eligible for a scholarship. If your teen plans now, works hard, and does his or her best to improve in certain areas, it is possible to earn a scholarship. Here are some things your teen can do now to increase the chances of receiving a little free money:
- Good grades: This one is fairly obvious. You get good grades, and you have a better chance of being rewarded with a scholarship. Involvement in an honor society doesn’t hurt, either. But good grades alone aren’t the only thing you need these days to be competitive for a scholarship.
- Music and theater performance: Whether your teen plays an instrument in the band or orchestra, or performs vocally, there are scholarships available. I was offered two different performance scholarships/stipends at two different schools for my involvement in band. You can better qualify for these scholarships and stipends if you have been accepted into a state honor band or honor choir, or receive awards for solos. Schools heavy into the fine arts will also award scholarships based on your drama involvement and ability.
- Sports: Yes, you can get scholarships for sports. You know this. But you have to be willing to put in hours and hours and hours of practice to be offered a scholarship. And competition for sports like football and basketball are fierce. However, some colleges have other sports, including soccer, volleyball, tennis, la crosse and baseball/softball that you might have a better chance at — assuming you can succeed.
- Other extracurriculars/leadership: Another way you can enhance your attractiveness to schools is to show how well-rounded you are through other extracurriculars and leadership positions. While I was never a class officer in high school, I did gain leadership experience through my involvement in 4-H, and my achievements at the state and national 4-H levels. Look, too, for opportunities to participate and lead in extracurriculars including clubs, school newspaper/yearbook, and alternative teams.
- Service: Many schools like to see students involved in service projects. Whether you volunteer at your church, in the community, or belong to your high school’s Key/service club, you can win scholarship points for giving back.
Looking for Opportunities
Don’t just look for scholarships from the schools of your choice. Many local organizations, banks and stores offer scholarships. My husband received a scholarship from his local bank, and stores like Target and Wal-Mart offer scholarships to local high school students. You can also find scholarships based on your intended field of study (I was offered a physics scholarship a long time ago), as well as in quirky categories, such as those offered to tall people. Do some research at places like FastWeb. Start applying now, and you might be surprised at how quickly all those small scholarships can add up.
(Photo: Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center )