Misconceptions About Scholarships

Scholarships can be an important part of the college financing puzzle, but it's important to be realistic about how much they will cover and how competitive they can be to earn.
Student learning about scholarships

When it comes to paying for college, many families have a preconceived notion that a scholarship is the "golden ticket" for their child to attend their top-choice school. There is no question that scholarship opportunities are out there. But it is important to set the record straight and set expectations for families who are starting to think about how they might pay the impending college bill.

Colleges offer scholarship awards, but it is important to note that these institutions often have very high standards, and most students do not qualify for these scholarship opportunities. According to Mark Kantrowicz, who analyzed the 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a mere 2.7% of students will receive an award covering 90% of the cost of attendance, and of all undergraduate students, only 0.1% received $25,000 or more in scholarships.

On the flip side, 97% of scholarship recipients received $2,500 or less. We often hear the mantra, "there are scholarship opportunities available for everyone." This is true. Organizations across the country – local and national – offer scholarship opportunities for students who have an interest in specific majors, are members of underrepresented groups, or have specific interests. However, these opportunities are unlikely to make a huge dent in the total college bill. Many private scholarship awards are in smaller increments, some ranging as low as $50 to $500 per student. These are oftentimes coming from local organizations, who do not have large scholarship budgets, but wish to support their local students.

This is not to discourage students from applying for scholarships! Like we say with saving for college, every little bit helps when it comes to paying for college; any amount you are able to pay up front will reduce the total amount you'll need to borrow – and pay back, with interest.

Scholarships are just one piece of the college financing puzzle. Families should also make sure to apply for financial aid and consider saving in a dedicated college savings account. To explore scholarships opportunities that students can apply for now, visit MEFA's scholarship blogs.  

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