Sometime during their senior in high school, students will start receiving notices from the counseling office about various available college scholarships. These scholarships will probably range in the $250 to $1,000 range with a few hitting $5,000. They’ll be encouraged to start using the different scholarship search websites so that they won’t have to take out student loans. By January, they’ll hear that if only they would get organized and be persistent, they can take advantage of all the college scholarships out there that haven’t been taken because no one applied.
So where will you find the best scholarships?
From the college you attend.
That’s right. The organizations that give out the most scholarship money to the most students are college and universities.
Look for yourself.
Go to the College Navigator Website, select a college, and look at the information under the financial aid section. The category with the largest average amount received and the largest number of recipients is the Institutional grants or scholarships category.
At Duke, 44% of freshman received an average of $38,261.
Beloit College gave 99% of its freshman an average of $24,272 in scholarships or grants.
69% of the freshman at the University of Texas at Dallas received an average of $10,382.
These scholarships are usually renewable for four years as long as the student maintains a minimum GPA. How many non-institutional scholarships can you find that can match that kind of money for as many students?
This is why it is so important that you have a good idea of what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is so that you find the schools that will give you the most money.
It is also essential to understand the differences in institutional aid between private and public colleges. As seen in the table below, private schools give out significantly more aid to more students than public schools do.
Institutional Grants for Freshman
The above table is from the DIY College Search Spreadsheet which consists of IPEDS data from January of 2016. Institutional aid includes both need-based and merit-based money. The average institutional aid at private schools lowers the total cost from an average of over $43,000 to just over $28,000. This is why you should never assume that you can’t afford a private school. However, while public schools don’t award as much aid, they also don’t cost as much as private schools lessening the need for institutional aid.
You also must remember that these numbers are averages, some students receive significantly more, some significantly less. This generally varies by family income and you can find the average price by income level at the College Navigator website. (And you know what this means, don’t you? Know your Expected Family Contribution!)
So what about outside scholarships?
Unfortunately, many colleges will reduce the amount of need-based aid you receive from the institution by the value of any outside scholarships. In other words, the colleges apply the scholarships to reducing their burden first rather than the student’s EFC.
Outside scholarships can make a significant difference in the cost of attending public schools where the scholarships can make a bigger dent in lowering tuition bills. They can also be useful to students at schools that can’t or won’t meet a student’s full demonstrated financial need.
Ultimately, if you are trying to reduce your college costs, your time will be better spent by focusing on finding colleges that will provide you with the best deal rather than looking for those scholarships that no one else is applying for. For a review of scholarship search websites, see Best Scholarship Websites Reviews 2016, 2014 Scholarship Search Reviews, Quest Bridge Scholarship Resources, Free Scholarship Searches, and Compare 5 Top Scholarship Search Engines.