College Connect: Start with scholarships

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

I tell students all the time: “You think you’ll be sad if you aren’t admitted into your top-choice school, but you’re really going to be sad if you are admitted and don’t have the money to pay for it.”

With a new school year upon us and high school seniors gearing up for college, I thought I’d offer this piece of advice – start with scholarships.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve watched the cost of tuition rise at colleges and universities across the country. Even with an increase in federal and state grants, most Pennsylvania colleges are no longer affordable to in-state students. A student from a low-income household is faced with an average gap in funding of $5,000 to $9,000 each year.

Students from middle-income households might not get any grants at all, leaving a burden of $24,000 per year on the family to figure out.

Recently, I spoke with a friend and education advocate, Temwa Wright, about her experience in sending her oldest child to college. She was shocked at how much time she really needed to prepare her daughter for college. “I knew time was of the essence, but I wish I had done more in her junior year. We missed a lot of opportunities because we didn’t know they existed until it was too late.”

Temwa’s daughter, Evelyn, was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Hartford, but there were still some out-of-pocket costs that they were able to pay for with scholarships. Those were scholarships that Evelyn earned in her senior year of high school.

Temwa suggests that parents start the scholarship search immediately. Senior year, she says, is filled with a lot of demands on students’ time and high emotions with the stress of senior projects, the excitement of prom, and the fatigue of senioritis.

Here are some tips to help you find scholarship success:

Schedule scholarship time – Searching for and applying for scholarships should be treated like a part-time job. Block off time in your weekly routine that is dedicated to the scholarship search and application process.

Start a spreadsheet – Create a spreadsheet to track the scholarships. You can use Google Docs or a program like Excel. It’s also helpful to copy and paste the direct link to each scholarship. Once you create a spreadsheet, you can sort your scholarships by deadlines, essay requirements, or priority.

Record all that apply – Record every scholarship that your child is eligible for, now or in the future. One mistake that most scholarship seekers make is ignoring scholarships if the deadline has passed. Most scholarships are annual, and your child might have the opportunity to apply when the application period is re-opened.

We want to hear from you. Do you have tips to help students earn scholarships? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

Melissa A. Rowe, M.Ed., is the founder of Capture Greatness! Scholarship & College Coaching. Capture Greatness! has helped local students earn more than $1.5 million in scholarships for college. Learn more at