Good grades are a common prerequisite for getting a scholarship, but they won’t guarantee one. Scholarship awards are based on a variety of factors, some so diverse, they can’t all be listed. Some scholarships are based only on merit. In other words, the financial status of you or your parents is not a factor. In fact an application for a merit-based scholarship may request that you don’t address financial need. Other scholarships in the form of state aid are often need-based, and this means, for the average beginning college student, that the most important factor is parental income.
In most US states, both federal and state scholarships almost always depend on the amount of money the parents make. This is the part that frustrates and annoys many students and parents. Students whose parents have an income slightly at, below or over the poverty level can generally expect the largest scholarship amounts, particularly when their grades and SAT scores are excellent. On the other hand, parents with middle class incomes, may be given “parent contribution amounts” that are unrealistic.
Federal aid normally looks at parental income and student performance only. It doesn’t evaluate parental debts, income in the past, the need to support other children or the realistic living expenses in certain areas of each state. This can mean that a family with three kids, with an average income of 60-70,000 US dollars (USD) might be asked to contribute as much as 10,000 USD yearly to a child’s education. This frequently exceeds the parent’s ability. Further, a student with parents with an average income may only be offered student loans instead of a state or federal scholarship.
So how can the student without college savings address this? Good grades certainly help, even if the chance of getting state aid remains slim. Second, it’s important to fully research merit-based scholarships. The website Fastweb is an excellent scholarship search tool. Also consider college choice based on available scholarships. Some schools have more money to offer and better scholarship opportunities for incoming students.
Researching how to pay for college should begin a full year before you apply — consider starting research into scholarships and schools the summer before your junior year in high school. It can also help to work summer jobs and save money for the first year of college. Look for work in companies that offer scholarship opportunities to students, like Wal-Mart. They can also offer you ability to transfer and work near your college.
You may also want to consider attending a community college for two years, where fees are much lower. Especially if you have to take out loans to pay for college and can’t get a scholarship, community college can be an excellent way of reducing cumulative debt when you finish school. With good grades you can frequently get enough in small merit scholarships to completely pay for community college fees.
Most important, continue to work on good grades. They may not guarantee you a scholarship, but virtually all merit based and many need-based scholarships are awarded partly or completely on higher grade point average. There is no reason not to try, but do be aware that while many programs in high schools emphasize good grades as helping you get to college, they don’t always realistically consider the student’s ability to pay for college.