As the Chinese Proverb goes, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” And you are not a fool, so has your financial aid and scholarships office answered these questions?
While some questions can easily be answered on a university’s website or in a brochure, there are other questions you need to ask to fully understand the real costs of college.
The Top 20 Scholarship Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid and Scholarship Office
- What types of scholarships are available?
There are all kinds of scholarships on campus; it really is just a matter of asking.
I always like to start with this question to provide an overview and sense of what’s available. After determining your options, follow up with Question #2.
- What scholarships or programs are available specifically for ___________________?
Fill in the blank with any items that are a part of your Scholarship Profile such as: specific majors or minors, sports, activities, minority groups, your gender, organizations, and any other thing that could lend itself to earning you a few extra bucks.
- What is your average scholarship award amount?
Make sure you understand the size of scholarships available. This gives you a realistic expectation of what to plan for each semester and year.
- Are there any scholarships I qualify for that are renewable?
I love renewable scholarships because it means I only have to do the work ONCE! Ask your current or future financial aid department if there are any renewable scholarships that you qualify for now or in the future. If there are, you’ll know that’s funding your family can count on the next few years.
- When are most of your scholarships available for students to apply?
Notice the word most in this question. There are periods of the year where more scholarships are available than others.
For example, you’re not going to see as many scholarships available over the summer because most students are in summer school or on summer vacation. It doesn’t make sense to offer a ton of scholarships during a period when students aren’t enrolled. There will be some, but not nearly as many as in the fall or spring.
Scholarship deadlines will appear throughout the semester. By having an idea of when university scholarships first become available, students can make sure that they schedule ample time to get started on their applications.
- When are most of your university scholarships due?
This question goes hand-in-hand with Question #5. Again, notice the word most in the question.
Scholarship deadlines vary. Just because a scholarship becomes available at the beginning of the semester doesn’t mean that it’s due that semester. It also doesn’t mean that it won’t be due in a couple of weeks.
By gauging when scholarships are due, students won’t be pushed to cram scholarships in over one weekend.
It’s about timing. Try to find out the number of weeks between application availability and due date. NEVER wait until the last minute.
- Are departmental and university-wide scholarships listed in the same scholarship portal, or are there different places I need to look and apply?
Some universities have different systems or portals for departmental and university-wide scholarships. Make sure you ask for clarification. Perhaps departmental scholarship applications are something that students pick up in person or apply to online via a special link – find out.
Students often miss scholarships because they don’t know where to look.
- How do your scholarships change from year-to-year? Summer-to-summer?
University programs and initiatives come and go. Although this may be a difficult question for your Financial Aid and Scholarships Department to answer, they may be able to give you some insight into historical programs or opportunities that students have taken advantage of throughout the years.
I’ve been fortunate to receive a few “university initiative” scholarships that paid for multiple summer school courses or reduced my class costs during the fall and spring semesters.
- Are there any other programs that offer financial assistance that may not be deemed a scholarship? Special programs or initiatives?
Sometimes special programs offer financial assistance in ways similar to a scholarship. From stipends to opportunities, these programs are not always related to a student’s major but may be tied to a student’s career goals.
For example, there are government programs to aid students looking to enter medical school, graduate school, or other specific fields. Ask your office or potential office to find out!
- What academic requirements are typically required for university-wide scholarships?
By understanding what’s required, students will know what to aim for or if they’ve already met scholarship requirements. Some may be tied to GPAs, credit hours, or other university-specific criteria like volunteering and community service.
- Do you have any information regarding scholarships for _________ major or department?
Believe it or not, some parents and students completely overlook this question. They’re so concerned with their financial aid package and how the student loan process works that it’s something they simply forget to ask. Don’t worry, I’ve done it too!
I’ve seen financial aid and scholarship websites of large and small colleges that aren’t always updated in a timely manner or that may have an error. There are even times when information isn’t listed.
To be on the safe side, ask. You’d rather hear the information again than to regret missing a great opportunity later.
- Who would be the best contact person for scholarships in _________ department?
Given that Financial Aid and Scholarship Departments work with so many people across the campus, chances are they will be able to connect you and your family to a good resource within another office.
If not, contact the administrative assistant or secretary in that department. They have a wealth of knowledge that is often underappreciated. It also never hurts to send them a hand-written thank you card. If you’ve developed a relationship with them, they’ll definitely keep you in mind if any scholarships become available.
- What scholarships are available for summer, winter, fast-track, and mini-courses?
Over the course of my academic career, universities have offered courses that were in my degree plan for free during certain periods throughout the year.
If summer school, winter courses, or mini-courses are part of your family’s plan, then you’ll want to know what could be available.
Keep in mind that commuting to campus each day or taking classes at a community college may be cheaper compared to other options.
- Do you offer any scholarships for students who have had parents or family attend the institution?
Oftentimes, universities and colleges have money set aside for students that have had parents or family graduate from their institution. I’ve heard them called “Legacy Scholarships”, but that name is not used nation-wide. Investigate by asking if your college offers these or any other funding for family members.
Requirements normally consist of an application and/or essay. GPAs and test scores may also be used in the awarding process.
- How will any outside or internal scholarships impact my overall financial aid and scholarships package?
Scholarships sometimes negatively impact other elements of your package. While you may have been “awarded” money, it could potentially be used in other ways to reduce the university’s bill.
I’ve had multiple situations where I only received a portion of my outside scholarships because they went towards “paying the school’s portion of my education”.
Go in and work with someone if you end up in a similar situation. Policies can change – stay updated.
- If possible, could you tell us what assistance or university scholarships a student with similar grades, EFC (Expected Family Contribution), and major might receive over the course of each year or first 2 years?
Your Financial Aid and Scholarships Department may not be able to give you an exact answer to this question, but they have had numerous experiences with all kinds of students and families.
They may be able to share some info that you can use to make any necessary financial plans and adjustments.
- What is required in order to keep the scholarships I’m eligible for or have received?
Applications may stipulate requirements. Always read the fine print!
If you are concerned for any reason – seek clarification.
- Are there any other scholarship forms, in addition to FAFSA, that need to be completed?
A “biggie” that students forget is that some scholarships require separate forms or registration.
Not all scholarships will be in the university’s portal. Especially if they compile outside scholarship resources.
There may be separate forms or paperwork that will be emailed to students at a later date. I always like to ask about paperwork in case I need to track people down.
- When are scholarships disbursed?
This question is to help your family plan. If certain financial bills are due at the beginning of the semester but disbursement occurs later, you need to be prepared. There’s nothing wrong with asking or clarifying your university’s/college’s process.
- Who do we need to stay in contact with if we have additional questions or need more scholarships?
At the end of the day, scholarships are a semester-after-semester journey. If there’s a semester where your family is struggling financially, make sure you speak with someone.
Find out if there are ways to make it work or additional scholarship opportunities that have come up for you/your student. Develop a relationship with someone in that office. Show them you care and are serious. This person will now be a part of your Scholarship Team.
Your Next Steps When It Comes to Financial Aid and Scholarships
Financial aid and scholarship offices know how much college is costing families. They’re there to help you and your family as much as possible. The more informed or clear you are upon arrival, the better the conversation will be.
The purpose of these questions is to cover all of your bases. You want to make sure you’re asking questions in different ways in order to receive as much information as possible.
How many times have you told someone how to do something, only to forget a piece of information because you’ve gotten caught up in the conversation? This gives you a scholarship plan.
If you are unsure about any information you receive online or after speaking to someone, don’t be afraid to schedule another phone call, have another meeting in person, or send a follow-up email.
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Feature Image Artwork Credit: iStockPhoto/Tsokur