Posted in HS4CC

Get a Grip on Scholarships

Scholarships can be a wonderful way to offset some or all of the costs of your teen’s degree. Because it feels like there are a lot of ways a person “could” earn a scholarship, and we’ve all heard that there are “millions of dollars that go unclaimed every year” we want to be sure our teens don’t leave any money on the table.  

A scholarship is a financial award that doesn’t have to be repaid.  Your teen may receive one for academic merit or test scores, because they live in a certain geographic area, because they excel in a sport, possess a talent,  are pursuing a certain major, or because the college they are attending has a fund to either entice or subsidize a student’s enrollment.  Sometimes a scholarship might even be a prize or award given during a college tour.

Because it feels like there are a lot of ways a person “could” earn a scholarship, and we’ve all heard that there are “millions of dollars that go unclaimed every year” we want to be sure our teens don’t leave any money on the table.  

These next few tips can help you approach the scholarship question with a little more awareness, and a few big ways you can save really money!

While it is true that some scholarship opportunities go unclaimed each year, and some students get full ride awards, and some colleges are generous with aid, the far more common scenario is that thousands of applicants will compete for just one award.

Where does the myth of “unclaimed scholarships” come from?

According to Marvin Carmichael, past Chairman of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), this notion that billions of dollars of scholarships go unclaimed year has been around for a long time, but it is most definitely a myth. If a university does not award all its scholarship money one year, Carmichael explains, it is because of weird timing issues or highly restrictive eligibility requirements.

Scholarships might go unclaimed because the eligibility criteria is so narrow, that most students aren’t eligible. Take a look at this BIG scholarship from the American Legion website:

American Legion Legacy Scholarship
Sponsor: The American Legion
Amount: Up to $20,000
Closing Date: April 1, 2023

When you click on the link, you can read the full eligibility. The student must be (1) a child of (2) a U.S. military members, who (3) died (4) while on active duty (5) on or after Sept. 11, 2001. There is a second category for a lesser scholarship, but as you can see, the criteria is so narrow, that few will “qualify.”

Of those who qualify, the added burdens are that they (1) be made aware of the scholarship (2) have access to the official death certificate per required documents list (3) have completed the FAFSA form (4) have a letter of acceptance from their target college (5) provide a breakdown of all educational costs (6) do all of this before April 1st. April 1st is next week- would you have access to all of those documents for your 12th grader today?

The scholarship outlined above didn’t go unclaimed, but of the tens of thousands of scholarships offered each year, you can immediately appreciate why some scholarships go unclaimed.

When a Scholarship Link is a Marketing Funnel

The overwhelming majority of scholarship sites are dot-com businesses that exist for the purpose of selling you recycled information already on the web.  These are not scholarship experts, these are internet marketers.  In fact, some of these businesses own dozens of websites with similar names, and they link you back and forth between each other.  The purpose is to capture your email address and give you breadcrumbs of information.  Either through a chain of scheduled emails or links, you’ll be given more free help.  At some point, you’ll be offered a free downloadable ebook. (more breadcrumbs) and possibly sent links to products for you to buy (more ebooks) or a subscription to special secret information – if you pay.

In marketing, this is called a “paywall.”  A paywall is where they want to take you.  Once you’re at the wall, you’ll pay a fee, and gain access to their ultra-premium content waiting for you on the other side.  This can be live webinars, video classes, emails, books, etc.  Congratulations, you’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book – repackaged for the tech times we live in.  You’ve fallen into a marketing funnel, and the one and only purpose of you being there is to buy something (more than once).

Marketers know that by getting you into their marketing funnel, that they have a 1-3% chance of “converting” you to a paying customer.  So, thousands of dollars are spent enticing you to click on something that gets you into the funnel.  Ever see Facebook ads in your newsfeed?  Those are to get you in a marketing funnel.

As you can imagine, it’s a lot of work orchestrating a marketing funnel.  (It’s 100% legal) So, that doesn’t leave them much time to generate quality content.  That’s ok, these businessmen can access a huge database of open-copyright content that is available to them to reprint without permission as often as they want.  Oh, did I mention that the likelihood of your teen actually getting a scholarship through one of these sources is 0%?

Colleges sometimes also use this approach, so if you have to give them something in order to receive something (you give an email, they’ll give you breadcrumbs) it’s probably something I’d avoid.

SOLUTION: Do not google “How to find Scholarships.”  There are better ways, and we’ll discuss them below.

CAUTION #2 The Sports Scholarship

Unlike the marketing funnel, sports scholarships aren’t scams.  They are, however, an excellent way to end up in a world of hurt and deep debt.

All NCAA Division Sports Scholarship information is transparent and open to the public (you) to look at.  So, hoping for a scholarship is less helpful than learning about how they work and how much money they (don’t) award.   Fewer than 2% of public high school students receive sports scholarships, so when you filter down to homeschooled students, there is even less information to go on.  Admittedly, we are a much smaller pool of applicants!  Still, some students (like my 2016 high school graduate son) may be eligible for a sports scholarship.

There are 6 sports in which a “full-ride” scholarship exists:  football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, tennis and women’s gymnastics.  If your teen is in one of those sports, I urge you to dive deeper than what we’ll cover here.  I recently watched and recommend a documentary called Schooled.  It reveals some of the challenges and limitations surrounding full scholarships in those sports.   Even if your teen plays one of those sports, if they don’t get picked up by a Division I school, your chances of getting a full-ride is almost zero.  The “pot” of billions is distributed like this:

Division II schools will get 4.37% of the money to distribute

Division III schools will get 3.18%, of the money to distribute

Division I colleges will get the rest.  That’s 92.45% of the money to distribute.

Now, if your sport isn’t on that shortlist, there IS NO MONEY for a full-ride sports scholarship. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  Sports that are NCAA, but not one of the 6,  are given a pool of money to be split each year – at the coach’s discretion- between all / any of the athletes on the team in that sport.

To use the sport I’m most familiar with, Men’s Swimming and Diving, in 2016, the average team consisted of 20 swim (AND) dive members.  Only the top 9 swim (OR) dive members received part of the money pool.  Those that received any money, averaged $8,000 per year (renewable at the coach’s discretion).  The colleges that participate in college-level swimming and diving, however, average $35,000 per year tuition ($11,000 per year room and board).  In other words, best case scenario would have a student swimming “on scholarship” to receive $32,000 off of their $184,000 degree.  That’s NOT a deal, even for the top swimmer OR diver on the team.

$184,000 – $32,000 (scholarship) = $152,000 left to pay out of pocket

Does this mean your teen shouldn’t pursue athletics?  Not at all!  This means you (the parent) shouldn’t chase athletic scholarships.  Most colleges have athletics, and your teen can play athletics in college without the burden of taking on debt to pursue a “scholarship.”

NCAA Official Scholarship Page

Please, spend 6 minutes and watch this Division I athlete’s WATER POLO debt disaster  (stay with it until the end!):

CAUTION #3 Blinded by the (spot)Light

Is there a difference between receiving a stipend, a government grant, an institutional waiver, an endowment payment, an allocation or a scholarship?   I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t the money.


A “scholarship” is a precious word in our culture.  If your teen receives a scholarship, the amount of the award doesn’t much matter- it strokes our ego just the same.  A scholarship validates 18 years of hard work as a homeschool parent, and we get to post about it on Facebook.   Ok, maybe not you.  Maybe it’s just my observation that so many parents are quick to tell me how they (oops, I should mean their) teen earned a “scholarship” for this or that. Does that sound snarky?

I don’t want to undercut the victory of a teen’s scholarship, but my role is to help you be the best guidance counselor for your teen, and that requires you to ask some hard questions before the celebration.

  1.  Is this scholarship a one-time (non-renewable) award, or does it renew every year?
  2. If this scholarship renews, how many years can you renew it?
  3. What are the requirements to keep it active?  Grade point average? Financial limits? Residency restrictions? Graduate in X number of years?
  4. What is the total cost of my teen’s education AFTER I subtract this scholarship?
  5. Do I have enough money to fund the remaining cost of my teen’s education?
  6. Does this scholarship allow my teen to use it at the college of her choice? Or is it tied to attending a specific college?
  7. Does accepting this scholarship put my family in a position that is difficult financially or in some other way?
  8. Will my teen be allowed to continue at this college if they lose the scholarship?
  9. If it takes my teen 6 years to earn this degree (the national average) will we have to cover the extra time?  Where will that money come from?

Strange questions?  Maybe, but the truth is that scholarships can sometimes create a strain on the family.

If you put each scholarship into the calculator and use math instead of emotion, you’ll be more likely to make a wise choice.

Strategies for Managing Costs

If you’re down to the wire, you’re probably ready for some solutions at this point.  I have a few, and most involve making your own solution to the college-funding problem.  I solve this problem from only one direction – the direction that assumes zero student loan debt.  For those willing to borrow, many of these tips won’t make the cut.  After all, your teen can borrow all the money they need, and when they max their cap, you can borrow the rest.

Since 2004, the phrase “improved financial aid programs” is code for “we’re letting everyone borrow what they need.”  Problem solved, right?  Simply let people take on more debt.  With the average graduation rate at only 50%, we have a lot of students walking around carrying a big debt burden with no degree.  Of course, everyone thinks their going to be in the 50% that finish, so they dismiss the statistic as irrelevant. I make no assumptions of my own kids- I know life can throw us a curveball at any time.

Getting into college is easy.  Getting out is hard.

With no financial incentive to keep tuition prices low (why bother when you can simply get a loan?), we’ve observed a staggering increase in the cost of college.  While this is good news for borrowers, it means that those who want to pay cash, or at least remove debt from the equation, have to be exceptionally resourceful.

  1.  If you’re in a state that offers free dual enrollment – USE IT!  Earning even 1 or 2 free classes will help reduce total cost.
  2. If you’re in a state that guarantees community college credits will transfer into your state’s public 4-year colleges – USE IT!  The guaranteed transfer assures that those credits paid for at a community college rate (under $100 per credit)  will count at a college that charges 4-5-6 times that amount!
  3. If you’re in a state that guarantees an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree will transfer into your state’s public 4-year college- USE IT!  The value of this maneuver can save the average family at least $35,000 or more.
  4. If you’re in a state that guarantees an AA or AS transfers as a full block of credit, use CLEP, DSST, or AP exams to accelerate the process and save cost.  When locked into a full block transfer, the receiving 4-year college can’t deny credit by exam transfer.
  5. In all 50 states, the cost of attending your state’s private university as an in-state student is lower than attending a neighboring state’s university as an out of state student.
  6. Sometimes, a college offers a special tuition rate for distance learning classes. Check if your teen can save money (or will spend extra money) choosing one over the other.
  7. Shop “degree” instead of “college.”  In most fields, where you went to college (brand name) is less relevant than the degree, major, or content of courses you take.
  8. If your teen has to pay-as-they-go and graduates a year or two later, then so be it!  Coming out of college debt-free will have a greater return on investment than coming out of college with a $35,000 student loan payment.
  9. In high school, point your teen toward working for one of the thousands of companies that offer scholarships to their workers or full tuition reimbursement.
  10. For parents- if you have multiple children lined up for college, consider taking a position with a college or university.  Even janitors and cooks can send their kids to college for free if they work full-time for a university.  While not all universities offer this benefit, most do!    In addition, employees at Tuition Exchange colleges can send their teens to ANY college in the program, not just where they work.

    My other posts/strategies you may be interested in:

  11. University of the People  (a free accredited college)
  12. Guaranteed Scholarships (legitimate scholarships for EVERYONE that qualifies)
  13. Sources of Free College Credits
  14. 100 Employer / Employee Scholarships (great companies for your teen!)
  15. We just saved $96,780  (A member shares how they did it)loan


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit