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How parents can help their student keep the scholarship bus on the road

Teenagers are an interesting bunch.

One moment they would rather crawl into a hole and bury themselves alive rather than listen to one word of parental advice, and the next moment they’re truly interested in learning everything they can from you.

Now that my son is a budding teenager, I often think back wistfully to the days when he used to listen intently to everything I said, and laughed at all of my jokes.

Now, not so much.

Offering teenagers advice and assistance can be like walking in a minefield. You never know the reaction you might get.

But here’s the thing:

Most students need (or could benefit from) our help with scholarships.

This post will tell you some of the best ways to do so.

Some students will do it all themselves, some will want a little bit of help, and some will want a lot of help. Some might even want us to do it for them!

(On that note, here is a word of advice: Parents please don’t write the scholarship essay/answer the questions for your student. Trust me when I say the scholarship reader will know it was written by a parent, and it will automatically—and rightfully—put it on the bottom of the pile. Don’t be too shocked. It happens.)

Most students want our help in some way, so I’ve put together a few ideas of how to work together to find, apply for and win scholarships. Of course, you know your student best, so you may need to tweak a few of these suggestions to fit your enigma…oops, I mean teenager.

If you haven’t done so already, read my post The 3 VERY FIRST things you should do to start the scholarship process. Now might be a good time to remind your student of your expectation that they are responsible to fund part of their post-secondary education, and that involves applying for scholarships

Now, on with the show…

Here are 3 ways you can help your student with the scholarship process:

1. Divide and Conquer. Make a list of all of the places you and your student can potentially find scholarships. Write down as many as you can on the list. Divide the list into places/people your student will take responsibility for searching and inquiring, e.g. their school guidance office, their work, sports teams, music groups, etc. Then, indicate the ones you will be responsible for e.g., your work, your friends, any community or service groups you belong to, etc.

Your student should have the bulk of the responsibility, but you can assist him/her. The purpose of dividing the list is so that you’re not both searching in the exact same places and wasting time. You can cover more ground—and find more opportunities—if you are searching in different places on a regular basis.

2. Sign up for a account. Either a parent or a student (or both) can set up a free account and profile for the student, and be matched with scholarships according to the student’s profile. Depending on how often your student reads email, you may wish to take responsibility for this one.

3. Find a way to organize the scholarship information so that your student actually reads it, and acts on it. You can collect hundreds of scholarship opportunities, but if your student doesn’t act on them, they’re all worthless.

And one of the best ways to create a feeling of overwhelm—which leads to inaction—is to be disorganized.

Overwhelm and inaction are great friends. Often seen together.

So as the parent, one of your main roles may be to keep the whole mess organized. Sound familiar???

Remember, your student should be doing most of the work.

They are the driver; your role is to help navigate.

Think of yourself as the navigator for a bus your student is driving. Your student should be driving the scholarship bus (they are the one who is actually doing the work), and as the navigator, your role is to help keep the wheels on that scholarship bus on track, pointing forward, always heading towards the destination.

So how do you do that?

In my blog post The 3 VERY FIRST things you should do to start the scholarship process, you’ll remember I suggested you start a folder (paper and/or virtual), dedicated ONLY to scholarships, to store the application information once you find it.

The key is to find a way to get that information in front of your student to act on it.

My biggest piece of advice here is to schedule it.

To quote Tony Robbins:

“If you talk about it, it's a dream, if you envision it, it's possible,

but if you schedule it, it's real.”

While I understand many students are already overscheduled, this task should be a priority. Since there is only a relatively short window of opportunity for scholarships (October - April), it will be a temporary task. But because there is only a temporary window of opportunity, and the payoff could last a lifetime, it should be a priority.

Ask your student to schedule some time dedicated to finding and applying for scholarships. How much time and when depends on the person and the situation, but if it’s not scheduled, it often doesn’t get done.

You know your student best, but here’s what it might look like:

Print the scholarship applications, highlight the deadline and put them into a file folder. Then remind your student to slot time into their calendar to actually sit down and start working on them, say one hour on Thursdays after school and another hour on Sunday afternoons.

If there are no actual scholarship applications to work on during that time, they can use the time to search for scholarships. They can also make sure their application information (activities list, transcripts, references, etc.) are updated and ready to go when an opportunity arises. They can even start to develop some essay text. Scholarship essays often have common themes, e.g. community involvement, overcoming a challenge, leadership, etc. They can take one or two of those topics and start to write a first draft of an essay.

Whatever way you choose to do, it’s best for students to develop a regular time and place to work on finding and applying for scholarships, and stick to it. If it’s part of your student’s regular schedule it will be much more organized and systematic, and therefore much less overwhelming. I'm all about creating a system to make it easier!

So now you're ready to help navigate the scholarship bus!

Best wishes for a successful scholarship season!

Need help with scholarships? Contact me to discuss my services.

About the author

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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