There may be nothing more heart-breaking to a high school teacher or guidance counselor than a bright, motivated student who’s given up on the idea of college because he or she thinks it’s financially out of reach. Between student work, loan and scholarship programs, there are so many ways to pay for a higher education. Cost shouldn’t be a barrier, especially to our top students. With that in mind, here are five creative ways to make students aware of their college funding options.
1) Start early. Students need to hear early and often that college is within their grasp, no matter their families’ financial position. Try integrating research about ways to pay for college from freshman year on. For example, in English class students might interview college graduates about how they paid for their education and write nonfiction essays about their experiences. In math, kids can conduct statistical research about the average cost of a college education and what percentage of tuition is covered by work-study, loans or scholarship.
2) Share personal stories. Many high schoolers may not be aware that most college students don’t have their educations paid for outright. It can help to hear how the people they know got through school, so open up about your crazy summer jobs or unique arts scholarship, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. You might compile a binder of faculty stories to leave in the guidance counselor’s office.
3) Help students identify what makes them unique. Scholarship opportunities abound for all kinds of niche talents, interests and backgrounds. (Community-minded students who are interested in the automotive industry might apply for the Buick Achievers program, for example.) Help students inventory their special hobbies and skills and conduct research to see if there are any matching opportunities. “The Ultimate Scholarship Book” is a good resource.
4) Be realistic about financial realities. Make sure students understand the pros and cons of taking out loans and paying for books on credit cards, for example. Discuss actual starting salaries in various fields so that students don’t get swept away by a “buy now, pay later” mentality.
5) Get personal.When you hear of a scholarship opportunity that sounds like it would be a good fit for one of your students, send him or her an email with the information and why you think it’s a good match. Follow up a few weeks before the due date and offer to proofread application materials, if applicable. These personal touches might make the difference between a student giving up on college and realizing that higher education is attainable after all.