Northern Michigan University
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.”