Northern Michigan University
341EducationpicStudents on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. At NMU, high school grades can translate into financial aids.
Start Early With Research and Know the Deadlines
Is your dining room table piled with college brochures? Is the family calendar dotted with campus visits?Has the incoming mail in your household doubled, and all of it on college letterhead?
If so, you probably have a high school junior under your roof. While the application essays loom over their heads, the cost of it all looms over yours. What can you afford, and what’s the best fit for your son or daughter?
Here’s the good news around the Big Lake: Scholarships are out there.
Of course, there’s work to do. Talk to high school guidance counselors, attend college nights, meet with college admissions officers and peruse college websites looking for scholarships that are offered.
For some scholarships, students are eligible simply by submitting an application for acceptance at the college. For others, students must be nominated. For the majority, though, students submit applications specifically for the scholarship.
For some students, like Jennifer Ikeler, a third-year nursing major at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, scholarships determined her choice of campus.
After applying to LSSU in her senior year of high school, she visited the LSSU website and found the Philip Hart Scholarship, named for the U.S. senator who served from 1958 until his death in 1976.
LSSU is particularly proud of the Philip Hart Scholarship.
“When he passed away in 1976, he wanted to leave a well-endowed fund to the smallest university in Michigan,” says John Shibley of the LSSU public relations office.
“We’re a small university, and we offer a lot of people a higher education who wouldn’t have the affordability to go away. He saw that as an opportunity to give the average Michigander an education.”
The full-tuition Hart Scholarship is awarded to 10 students each year.
“It was one of the harder applications because you had to write an essay about Senator Hart,” Jennifer says.
She bought his biography and wrote an essay comparing her experiences to the senator’s life. Having survived childhood cancer, Jennifer could relate to illness in Senator Hart’s life. After her illness, Jennifer started an organization called “Chemo Crafts,” and has collected and distributed more than 5,000 crafts to kids with cancer. She related this work to Senator Hart’s work championing the underserved.
“I looked at everything he did for his community – he was an advocate for the underdog.”
In May of her senior year, Jennifer still had not decided on her school, and it was coming down to financial aid. “I didn’t want to go into debt,” she says. “I have three older brothers and it was hard for my parents to help me.”
She had decided to go to another school, but within days a letter arrived saying she was a recipient of the Hart Scholarship. It sealed the deal.
“I really love it up here,” she says of her college choice. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to come here if it wasn’t for the scholarship.”
More than 100 scholarships are offered at LSSU, and 61 percent of incoming, first-time freshmen (304 out of 499) received at least one scholarship in fall 2011.
“Scholarships do not sleep in this era of rising costs,” says John.
At some schools, the application for admission automatically places a student into contention for major scholarship support. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is ranked in Canada’s top two universities for the number of scholarships and bursaries offered each year. At Lakehead, scholarships are based on academic achievement, and bursaries are based on financial need.
Lakehead University Academic Entrance Scholarships are offered to all Canadian students who meet specific levels of achievement; some are eligible to receive free tuition for four years. These requirements, plus more scholarships available by application, are posted on the school’s website.
In the United States, it’s critical that students submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), reporting their family’s income and assets. Not only does the U.S. government use the information to determine a student’s eligibility for federal programs, such as Pell Grants, but some states like Michigan, as well as public and private colleges, use it to determine if there are institutional dollars for which the student qualifies.
Northern Michigan University in Marquette awards admissions scholarships based on the incoming student’s grade point average and ACT score. According to Mike Rotundo, director of financial aid, “Grades really do matter, even at the freshmen level.”
NMU also offers foundation scholarships funded by private donors. They have varying requirements based on both need and merit and are listed in full on the school’s website. The open application period runs from late January to late February.
In many cases, private colleges, while asking a higher tuition, often have larger endowments and scholarships that make the college affordable for students who meet academic standards or financial criteria. (This common notion that private colleges have more scholarships may be changing as endowments at public universities rise to meet growing tuition costs.)
At the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, for example, Benedictine Scholarships are awarded to incoming students based on academic accomplishments. These significant scholarships can offer $34,000 to $58,000. Prospective students can check eligibility for a scholarship online by entering their standardized test scores and GPA into the calculator on the college website.
For Amanda Vanderbeek, a junior elementary education major at CSS, receiving the Benedictine Scholarship made all the difference in choosing her school. She describes the scholarship as “unusual – it’s a ridiculous amount they help students with each year, especially in our country’s economic turmoil.”
Since then, she has worked to get high enough grades to renew the scholarship ach year.
“It’s really kept me on track and focused and doing the best while I’m in school,” she says. “In terms of motivation, it’s been good for me.”
Northland College, a private environmental liberal arts college in Ashland, Wisconsin, follows a rolling admissions process. It has no application deadlines and makes decisions as students apply. For Fall 2012, Northland College is introducing a rolling aid process for institutional funds offered based on academic and achievement criteria.
“If students who are accepted for admission also apply quickly for scholarships, they will hear from us quite soon about the amount of initial aid they will receive from Northland,” says Rick J. Smith, vice president for enrollment management.
Grants and scholarships make up the majority of Northland’s financial aid funds, coming mainly from endowments, alumni gifts and other contributions, and range from $200 to the cost of attendance.
When searching online for scholarships, Rick emphasizes that families should never pay for scholarship information.
“The financial aid offices at any college or university can provide all the information families need to explore all available sources of public and private scholarship monies, and will provide that information for free as a part of their services.”
Chris Haidos, associate director of admissions at the University of Minnesota Duluth, also stresses the importance of the college admissions officers in navigating the financial and scholarship pathways.
“We are the people who are going to help make sense of this process. It is overwhelming, and many haven’t been through the process themselves and they don’t know who to turn to.”
At UMD, the admissions application also serves as the application for all scholarships at the university, such as the Best of Class Scholarship, which offers half the cost of tuition for students who are in the top two of their graduating high school class.
Once students are at UMD, there are more departmental scholarships available to them, says Brenda Herzig, director of financial aid.
Dan Abramson, a senior at UMD and a member of the first graduating class in the civil engineering program, is a two-year recipient of the UMD Engineering Scholarship, which comes from a pool of donors and is available via an application to the department.
Dan is also a four-year recipient of the Dennis Maki Scholarship. Created by Dennis Maki, a 1962 Denfeld High School graduate and a 1966 UMD alumnus, the award resides at Denfeld High School in Duluth, the largest scholarship endowment at a Minnesota high school. Each year it is given to two students, a young man and woman, who graduate from Denfeld and choose to attend UMD. The significant award is renewable all four years.
Dan was nominated for the scholarship while a senior at Denfeld.
“I knew that I wanted to do engineering, but I didn’t know I wanted to go to UMD. For me, it came down to the scholarships.”
One of the best benefits of scholarships – besides the financial assistance – is that they often lead to more opportunities.
“Scholarships build on themselves,” Chris says. “Students can use them as a lever in the future. It’s not just about scholarship money – it’s the conversations and opportunities they lead to.”
Community foundations can be a great source of scholarship funds. The Thunder Bay Community Foundation offers a number of scholarships; high schools nominate two students per school for the major scholarships, and nominees are invited to submit applications. Each year, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation offers more than $800,000 in scholarships to students in northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. Its website includes a detailed scholarship grid with summaries of all scholarships and an application form.
Private and publicly-held companies, such as the Upper Peninsula Power Company, offer a variety of college and technical school scholarships to both high school students and returning adults in their service area.
Financial aid officers at public and private institutions all agree: start early, and use all the resources available. A great first step is to talk with high school guidance counselors, even as early as freshman year. Guidance counselors have a bead on trends and requirements at colleges and universities, and they can advise students on how to prepare to be the best candidates. They can also alert students to scholarships available at their own high school, such as the Maki Scholarship at Denfeld in Duluth, and scholarships offered by foundations in the student’s hometown, such as the Robert B. and Sophia Whiteside Scholarship, offered for graduates of a Duluth high school.
In addition to visits from college representatives, most high schools offer evening sessions on financial aid and scholarships. Beginning junior year, students should research scholarship deadlines, and, in their senior year, make sure to complete the FAFSA in anticipation of any scholarship deadlines.
While visiting college campuses, make sure to ask about scholarships and financial assistance early in the conversation with admissions counselors; it is their job to help prospective students and their families navigate the tough financial decisions linked with choosing the right school.
Felicia Schneiderhan is also a part-time instructor at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.