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Oakes's Corner

Paying For Education

By Oakes Hunnewell, Ed.M., CEP

Institutions of learning are facing the reality that their sources of income have been drastically affected by the recent economic downturn. Many colleges have found their investment portfolios cut by as much as 30 percent. None have been spared. According to the Wall Street Journal, even the country's most prestigious university, Harvard, saw its endowment decline by more than 20 percent. Institutions at all levels have found ways to cut back. Some have eliminated programs, others have offered early retirement packages to their more senior faculty or laid off professors. Tuition has continued to increase and, therefore, so has the need for financial aid. Today, many colleges, universities and private schools are looking for as many full pay students as they can find without lowering their standards. As a result, they are sacrificing a diverse student body. To balance this as much as possible, the need based aid has been left alone while merit aid has been cut across the board. For middle bracket families, merit scholarships have been an enormous help in the past. Combined with need based awards through the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the SSS (School and Student Service for Financial Aid), these families were usually able to piece together the funds to send their children to college. Today, however, with their incomes falling, they are finding that, in many cases, a private education is harder than ever to come by.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with an admissions and financial aid officer at a private university. I was calling to inquire about ways to make college more affordable for one of my students. Many colleges offer institutional scholarships and work studies in addition to merit scholarships and I was trying to find out whether my student would be eligible for any additional financial assistance. The conversation soon moved in a different direction. We started talking about private scholarships and grants not affiliated with institutions, their purpose being to provide money to people who aspire to better themselves. Many of these are geared toward students trying to fund their education. Last year, a student of mine, whom I had referred to a scholarship web-site, wrote me saying that he had been awarded 2500 dollars for submitting an essay highlighting his goals and aspirations. In truth, I was not aware of the extent of the money available. The admissions officer told me that she knew of a couple of students on campus who were funding their entire education through private scholarships.

Recently, I went to one of the reputable scholarship web-sites to see what I could find. To get started, the user fills out a profile highlighting credentials, accomplishments and goals. I described myself as a white, male seventeen year old high school senior with a 3.3 gpa and an 1820 score on the SATs. I identified Syracuse, Boston University, American University and Oberlin College as my top choices and an interest in history or political science. Later on in life, I wanted to pursue a career in Foreign Affairs. I pushed the “submit” button and waited to see what would happen. After a few seconds, my computer screen lit up with three pages of scholarships or sixty listings. Each award was different, ranging from 1000 dollars to 100,000 dollars. I started looking into them and found that, as expected, some were pretty straight forward while others required nominations and sponsorships. Most had multiple winners. Some were renewed all four years of college while others were good for just one year. One thing was certain, there was a lot of money out there for those who showed initiative. All one needed to do was follow the instructions, fill out the applications and do what was asked of them. The following are some examples of what I found:

Share your Best Music Scholarship: $2500- Submit a song or piece of art of your own creation.

Courageous Persuader Scholarship: $3000- Create a 30 second TV commercial targeted at middle school students warning them of the dangers of underage drinking

Most Valuable Student Competition: up to $15000- Submit up to ten pages of Awards, Certificates of Achievement and newspaper articles highlighting personal accomplishments. Must reside within jurisdiction of a local Elk's Club.

New England Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Offices: $1500- Must live in New England. Must be recommended by a guidance counselor. Must have at least a 3.0 gpa. Write 250 words on career goals and objectives.

Share your Best Multi-media Project: $2500- Submit a video, graphic design or music composition together with a brief description of process followed.

Healthy Lifestyle Scholarship: $5000- Write 1000 words on ”Why is a healthy lifestyle important for school” and 500 words on career goals, plans and personal ambitions.

Henry David Thoreau Scholarship: $20,000- Show your commitment to the environment through action. For Massachusetts residents only.

Nicholas Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition: Award varies- Submit up to three haiku poems.

Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship- $1000: Submit your personal statement.

College Prowler “No Essay” Scholarship: $2000- Fill out a student questionnaire listing intended course of study and top college choices and submit. A winner is picked each month.

These are just some of the scholarships I qualified for. Interestingly, most of them did not consider my intended course of study or career aspirations. Instead, they focused on students' individual strengths. For example, having put down Oberlin, a college known for attracting artsy students, there were some creative and musical scholarships. Some of these scholarships were aimed at students with average grades. People think that scholarships are intended for the top students. Some are but the majority of them are aimed to reward special talents that are not quantifiable in that way.

As colleges try to make adjustments so must families. These private scholarships may be the answer. With the number of merit scholarships on the decline, families can turn to private scholarships to fill the money gap, especially given the fact that the amount awarded is controlled by the student not the institution. If the student shows enough initiative, the amount awarded could surpass amounts awarded by merit scholarships.


School of the Month

Franklin and Marshall- Lancaster, PA


Last month, I visited Franklin and Marshall College. Situated West of Philadelphia, Franklin and Marshall is a small liberal arts college student body of about 2000. It competes with Gettysburg and Dickinson for many of its students. Often referred to as NESCAC of the Mid- Atlantic, these three colleges are top notch and very popular amongst students in the Mid-Atlantic states who don't want to brave the extreme temperatures of New England winters. They are also generally easier to get into than the NESCAC colleges up north. Students at F&M are relatively strong, having earned As and Bs in high school. Their SAT scores average 1200. The feeling on campus is that students are coffee drinking intellectuals who enjoy talking philosophy. Students at F&M are more urban looking than at Dickinson and Gettysburg. They have an edge to them that also makes the student body more diverse and generally liberal. F&M has been described as a school for future lawyers. It also has strong science, business, psychology and creative writing programs. Languages are popular at F&M and students take advantage of the many study abroad opportunities the college offers. F&M's alumni are very active and, therefore, it has a healthy endowment and a sizeable budget for merit scholarships. There is a Greek system at F&M but by no means does Greek life dominate the social scene there. The atmosphere at F&M resembles that of a liberal college where students feel free and safe to express their own views. The student body is generally politically active and open minded. For those northerners looking for a squash program that doesn't recruit the top players in the country, F&M could be the place.