By Kim Lifton
It’s hard for financial aid guru Mark Kantrowitz to imagine why a student wouldn’t apply for college scholarships; more than 1.5 million scholarships worth some $3.5 billion are awarded annually by donors, philanthropists, foundations, corporations and other charitable organizations.
“Kids say it is too much work. They don’t like writing the essays,” said Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb and author of Secrets to Winning a Scholarship. “Well, once you finish half a dozen, the rest get easier.”
It takes a combination of skill – and luck – to find money, but Kantrowitz doesn’t see any reason not to try. “This is money that does not need to be repaid. It is free money for your college education.”
Recently, Kantrowitz shared six of his favorite scholarship opportunities with Wow Writing Workshop President Kim Lifton.
Who says you can’t have some fun trying to earn cash for college? To win the $5,000 top prize, singles or couples must create and accessorize their outfits with Duck brand tape, then wear them to prom. Of course photos are required.
“I like the scholarship because the winners demonstrate a lot of creativity,” Kantrowitz said. “Anybody can enter this scholarship competition. It is both straightforward and challenging, because your entry is limited only by your imagination.”
Students can enter this year’s contest through June 5. Duck will choose its top 10, and then the public will vote for first-, second- and third-place winners.
2. Jif Most Creative Peanut Butter Sandwich Contest.
Each spring, one choosy kid (age 6 – 12) wins a $25,000 college scholarship for developing the most creative sandwich recipe using Jif peanut butter.
“No jelly required,” Kantrowitz said. “It’s simple enough that younger students can enter. This contest requires creativity. To win, you have to do much more than just spread some peanut butter on a slice of bread.”
This year’s contest is closed. From July through October, Jif accepts entries for creative sandwich recipes. The top five finalists will be announced at the end of February; each will be flown to New York, where the top prize is announced. 2013 finalists include a “Banutter Cream Sandwich,” “Banana Foster PB&B” and “The Beef Chief.”
The pot is substantial for the national winner. The first place prize package includes $30,000 in cash, a watch, a $2,500 U.S. Savings Bond, a $5,000 college scholarship, an encyclopedia and $2,600 in reference books.
“While most people know that the National Spelling Bee is a major scholarship competition, they don’t normally think of it when asked to make a list of scholarships open to younger students,” Kantrowitz said.
Every fall, tens of thousands of schools enroll in the spelling bee competition. Schools conduct spelling bee programs at the classroom, grade, and school level and then send the champions to the next levels of competition. Enrollment begins in August.
Talent counts in this competition. The Davidson Institute for Talent Development provides scholarships to students under age 18 who have completed significant pieces of work in mathematics, science, technology, music, literature and philosophy.
The work should have the potential to benefit society. The top prize is $50,000.
“The Davidson fellowship recognizes and rewards young students for exceptional talent,” Kantrowitz said. “It is truly based on merit.”
Kantrowitz suggests students and parents research other organizations like this one for scholarships and grants. “Some target their funding at low-income students to eliminate money as a barrier to enrolling and graduating from college,” he said. “Others award scholarships to the most talented students so that they can continue to excel.”
5. Small Scholarships
“Don’t dismiss the small scholarships,” Kantrowitz said. “They can add up.”
Here’s a few to consider: The $500 Klingon Language Institute’s Kor Memorial Scholarship encourages language study; the $500 Mycological Society of America graduate fellowship supports students studying spores, mold and fungus; and the Youth Leaderships Award ($500 to $1,000 prizes) from Students for Organ Donation honors students who are committed to raising awareness of organ donation.
“Every dollar you win in a scholarship is a dollar you or your family do not have to pay out of your own pocket,” Kantrowitz said. “It is a dollar less that needs to be borrowed. Because the pay out is small, fewer people apply for them. This increases your chances for other scholarships, and it can help you get the big one. It adds a line to your resume and is a vote of confidence.”
6. Big Scholarships
The big prize competitions for college cash are highly competitive, but the potential is huge!
“I like the Intel Science Talent Search and Siemens Competition because they offer a big reward (top prize of $100,000) based on the student’s promise and potential as a future researcher in STEM fields,” Kantrowitz said. “Many of the winning students have performed amazingly good quality research, better than many graduate students.”
Intel runs the oldest, and is among the leading, original research project scholarship competitions. High school seniors produce cutting edge STEM projects. While the top prize is hard to snatch, Intel awards 300 scholarships worth more than $1.2 million annually.
The Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology (administered by the College Board) is also among the leading original teen research contests. Students work alone or with a team to complete an original research project. Scholarships range from $1,000 to $100,000.
Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students how to write outstanding college applications essays by telling their stories in their own voices and their own words. Wow teaches workshops, does private coaching and offers Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing. Wow also teaches ACT/SAT writing test preparation workshops.