The price of college has been on the rise for decades. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015–2016 school year was $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
For military children, however, there are ways to bring down the cost, namely through scholarships.
Whether it’s through a transferred Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, need-based scholarship, military scholarship, or foundation scholarship, there is no shortage of college-payment relief options for children whose parents have served in the military.
The trick is knowing where to look for the money, and how to apply to them.
Related: Has the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill seen its first cut? »
For need-based scholarships, a correct application is the most important part. Though items like essays may be required, they will not ultimately have any bearing on the award. Because these scholarships are dependent on financial need, they are typically offered on a year-to-year basis, and applicants may have to fill out a form like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly know as the “FAFSA.”
On the other hand, merit-based scholarships require students to distinguish themselves from other applicants through academic prowess, extracurricular, and leadership activities, and of course, their essays.
Brian Gawne, vice president of community relations with the Fisher House Foundation, told Task & Purpose, “The first piece of advice I would give to any student that’s looking at applying for a scholarship would be, ‘Don’t ever apply for just one.'”
Scholarship season typically starts around December and ends in the spring for the following year. And the easiest place to start looking is on the internet.
“It’s very important for students to have a checklist,” said Wanda Cruz, who works with the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Program.
She added that watching the dates is extremely important, because missing deadlines may mean you miss out on money that would otherwise go toward lowering the cost of college.
Students should look for both need-based and merit-based scholarships. In addition, they should also consider looking into local community programs like church groups that may offer money, or specialized scholarships that are affiliated with their military parent’s unit or branch.
There are also several websites that aim to pair up students with potential scholarships that best fit their needs or qualifications. For military children some of the best places to look include the101st Air Refueling Wing’s extensive list,Fastweb, andthe College Board.
These scholarships can range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to full tuition and have various application requirements.
“A smart kid is going to basically build a folder and compile all of those things you need to apply for college,” Gawne said.
He suggested saving copies of all college application items such as a high school transcript, SAT scores, ACT scores, list of awards, sports, and extracurricular activities, job or work experience, volunteer work, and letters of recommendation, because they are usually the same documents needed when applying for scholarships.
But once students find programs that they qualify for and suit their academic goals, how can they stand out when it comes to merit-based scholarships?
“Scholarship implies scholarly-ness,” he said. “Lots of people forget that it’s not something that you’re owed, it’s oftentimes a reward for great academic performance.”
While each scholarship’s decision-making process is different, there are certain things that students can do to prepare.
Gawne said, “I used to use the acronym ‘CLASS,’ they’re looking for character, leadership, academics, sports, and service.”
Throughout high school, students can develop themselves by being well-rounded and getting good grades. However, scholarships can be competitive.
“Military kids are often high achievers.They often times could have a very good resume,” Gawne said. “For some of these scholarships, the real tiebreaker is the essay.”
If a student has good grades and a diverse array of activities, the essay is the thing that can really give him or her the edge.
“When someone is grading a scholarship … oftentimes that essay can be the only thing that gives a real personal insight into that student,” Gawne added.
So how should you tackle the essay when applying? Gawne had a few pieces of advice.
“When it comes to the essay … read the question, answer the question, proofread, and spell check,” he said. “Make sure it’s all good to go so you don’t give a negative impression.”
According to Gawne, it is important to inject your personality into an essay. Who you are is an asset when it comes to merit-based scholarships.