4 Tips to Make the Most of Scholarships


By: Ryan Hickey

Students typically have to work their tails off to earn money for college. They write proposals, perform interviews and suffer rejection in their quest to land a choice scholarship. But once they've secured it, they may be surprised to learn that their work is not even close to being over. In fact, the same vigilance that got them that scholarship in the first place is critical if they're going to use the money properly. Here are four tips for helping students get the most out of a scholarship.

1. Read the fine print.

Know everything there is to know about the scholarship. Is it a one-time deal, or one that is renewable over the years they're in school? Renewable scholarships seem like a dream come true, but many have a number of stipulations, including a minimum grade point average to maintain or a specific path of study to follow in order to continue to be eligible. There also may be further paperwork to submit on an ongoing basis. If students fall below a standard, deviate from a path or file work late, they could not only lose the scholarship, but they may have to pay back what they already received.

2. Make sure it doesn't impact financial aid.

Something that doesn't occur to every scholarship awardee right away is how an outside scholarship (rather than an in-institution one) can alter their other financial aid packages. Make sure to assess what one might do to the other.

3. Create a plan.

Making a budget is absolutely the most important step when accepting scholarship money. Many students will feel rich for a day, and immediately go out and begin loosening their purse strings. Mint is a service that can be useful in helping to create a budget. It's helpful to focus on essentials when allocating scholarship funds:

• Room & Board: There are a number of scholarships that require funds go to certain parts of school life, like room and board. If it doesn't suggest this specifically, students might want to consider this anyway. Rent and food are the largest expenses in most cases. They should allocate money for a meal plan, or make a food budget and stick to it. Of course, they'll likely go out once or twice or order pizza—but they need to have a monthly budget set aside for these expenses.

• Books & Supplies: Again, some scholarships require that the funds go only to academic supplies. Get the lowdown on just what that entails. Does that apply to a graphing calculator? Does it apply to expenses incurred if you want to study abroad? How about a laptop or iPad? Find out before you assume—and then assume debt.

4. Students must account for themselves.

One of the things students would be smart to master as an adult is personal finance. They'll need to learn how to create bank accounts, and open one for their "excess" scholarship money. By having the funds in a specific place, it will remind them not to use them for non-essential expenses.

In the meantime, it's essential that they avoid going into debt (or further debt). Though it's rough working as a full-time student, they can look into opportunities like work-study programs that may help them earn money to subsidize any scholarships. Between these funds, students should be able to stay afloat. But even a full ride scholarship may not be enough to keep them in the clear—there's still work to be done. The best advice: Stay on target, stay on budget and stay above water.