My friend, Janet Addison, of Cabot, Arkansas, sent both of her teens to college for free — by helping them win over $250,000 worth of scholarships. Impressed? Now you can learn too, via Addison’s website, Scholarship Diva.com.
Memphis Parent: How did you become the Scholarship Diva?
Addison: A friend of mine had a child a year ahead of my oldest and someone suggested I talk to her about scholarships. She told me her kid was going to a $26,000 a year college — for free. That caught my attention. During my daughter Mabry’s senior year, I made it my full-time job to find scholarships. We applied for 45 and received eight or nine to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. In fact, ASU wrote her a check for $4,000 or $5,000 every year because the scholarship actually exceeded her tuition total. As parents heard this, they wanted me to teach them how to do it, so I began doing seminars.
My son, Grant, was also a fully funded history major at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He even turned one scholarship down.
MP: The process of college application is overwhelming. Where do parents begin?
Addison: Begin by considering what you can afford. People tend to look for colleges without thinking about cost. Look at how much money you have and choose a school accordingly. Community college, for example, is economical and can lead to a job. If your child is pursuing a four-year degree, he can transfer after earning an associate’s degree to a larger university.
Secondly, consider schools that give money. Often, less popular schools offer more funds.
MP: I’ve narrowed down our school choices, now what?
Addison: 1. Start early; a teen’s freshman year of high school is not too early to begin the process.
2. Think about your child’s makeup. If your son has diabetes, for instance, plays sports, is in a band or club, virtually any activity your student is associated may offer scholarship money.
3. Fill out a profile database — Fastweb.com is one of my favorites. This profile database matches your child with available scholarships. Parents should also check with local companies, from car dealership to the utility company. Any company with which you do business, chances are good they offer a scholarship.
4. Become friends with the scholarship office at the schools you’re considering. They can tell you what’s available.
5. Check in regularly with the high school guidance counseling office — I asked every single day during my daughter’s senior year. They knew me! New opportunities were often posted online, so I didn’t leave it up to my daughter to bring me information. Even if you have to do it for your child, it’s worth it. Often, there are scholarships that no one, or almost no one, applies for.
6. When it comes to institutional money, always apply as soon as possible. Our deadline was December 15th for one scholarship, but we started in August. My daughter had a letter written by October, and by the time the deadline came, all the money had been awarded.
MP: When is the best time to apply for scholarships?
Addison: You have two windows: Straight out of high school and transferring to a bigger school after earning an associate’s degree. The majority of scholarships are available for students coming straight out of high school. But if your teen transfers to a bigger school, that is the second easiest time to receive a scholarship, especially if he makes good grades.
Let me also say that I teach at a community college. For many kids who are not prepared for college, this makes for an easier transition. Classes are smaller and taught by professors instead of graduate students. So don’t rule out enrolling in a community college first. Even a mom going back to school or studying in specific fields like nursing or education (especially if you agree to teach in underprivileged areas) has a chance of going on scholarship.
Be aware that taking a gap year does disqualify graduating seniors from some scholarships, but if you look, you can still find them out there.
— Margie Sims is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of 10 in Virginia. She finished this article only after stopping every few hundred words to search for scholarships for her own three high school students. Read her blog, margiesims.com.
Interested in learning more? The Scholarship Diva is available for local seminars. Email Janet@scholarshipdiva.com.
Addison is also writing an e-book, How to Go To College on Other People’s Money, to be released in early 2014. • scholarshipdiva.com