As thousands of Wisconsin high school juniors and seniors begin finalizing their college plans, many anxiously await scholarship awards and grants to help them finance their education; others have not yet applied for financial assistance.
“Students should apply for scholarships about a year in advance; a lot of the private scholarships for fall 2014 have already been passed out,” said Randy McCready, director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. “For a lot of the institutional scholarships, not just at Parkside, it is right around the deadline.” Feb. 1 is the deadline for students planning to attend Parkside to be eligible for most institutional scholarships.
But there are still plenty of scholarships still available. “Granted, the higher number of scholarships are merit based, but there are certainly ones associated with special skill sets, like talent in the arts and humanities,” McCready said.
McCready offered advice for parents of graduating students: “Give us a call or talk to your student’s high school guidance counselors. From a state agency standpoint, your taxpayer dollars help pay for us to be here and help.”
Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid also may lead to federal grants and rewards. Most financial aid — scholarships, grants and loans — starts with the FAFSA, McCready said.
“Some scholarships are based on financial need. And a lot of times parents assume they are not eligible and do not even bother to fill out the FAFSA,” said DeAnn Possehl, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at Parkside. “It is important for all families; it is the starting point.”
On Jan. 1, students across the nation began submitting their applications.
“I think a college education is accessible for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions you don’t know,” Possehl said. “There’s nothing wrong with asking.”
Macee Mueller, 19, a sophomore double majoring in theatre performance and musical theatre, said she would not have been able to attend Carthage College without scholarships.
“I auditioned for a theatre scholarship and that cut out a big chunk of what I had to pay,” she said. Mueller, originally from Colorado, said her high school GPA and ACT scores helped land her academic scholarships.
“I started applying the beginning of my senior year, and for a couple the summer before, just to get the ball rolling,” she said.
Mueller also works two on-campus jobs to help supplement her spending money. “I answer phones and direct incoming calls, and I also have a job in the theater where I build sets,” she said. “Apply for scholarships. It is really easy to get discouraged, but there are so many out there. There is something out there for you.”
And 19-year-old psychology major Rebecca Lindemann said she qualified for scholarships upon her acceptance to Carthage. “When I applied I qualified for some presidential scholarships, based off my high school GPA,” she said. Lindemann’s cumulative GPA was 3.9.
“Don’t only look at the sticker price when choosing a college. I think the price discourages a lot of people,” Lindemann said. “I suggest looking locally for scholarships, because there is less competition.”
Lindemann, who said she is responsible for 100 percent of her tuition, suggests high school students also focus efforts on community involvement and charity work. “Schools are all going to look for that, it’s not just grades. If you don’t have a 4.0, it’s fine,” she said. “Don’t give up. There is so much money out there. I know so many people who have gotten by on just scholarships and grants.”
When is the best time to apply for scholarships?
Mulvey: It depends on the institution, because every school has their own scholarship programs. Carthage offers automatic merit scholarships based off one’s GPA and ACT scores. The deadline for competitive scholarships is usually early December.
What if a student does not have a 4.0?
Mulvey: Don’t let your GPA and ACT scores dissuade you from applying for scholarships. Many scholarships look at a student’s community service and leadership abilities.
Any advice for high school freshmen and sophomores?
Mulvey: Get outside your comfort zone. Get involved with youth groups, service groups and athletics. Colleges look for students who are going to have an impact on campus.
Does the Free Application for Federal Student Aid help students qualify for financial aid?
Mulvey: In Wisconsin, the FAFSA helps students quality for federal aid, state aid and even school grants. It helps maximize the amount of financial aid you can earn. Contact your admissions representative for help.