Four tips to helping your students find scholarship money

Many students know that colleges costs are rising, yet, the benefits of a college education are important in many ways.

As a school counselor, you play an important role in helping your students find opportunities to pay for college. You can show students that with a little time, planning, and effort, they can take advantage of scholarship money that doesn’t need to be repaid. With the assistance of specialized websites like Tuition Funding Sources, you can help dedicated students locate, and apply for, more than ever before.

  • Always be on the lookout. Let your students know not to wait until the end of senior year to apply. By starting early, searching often, and applying frequently, they’ll have better odds of racking up the dough.
  • Help them nail the essay. If students really want to sway a scholarship committee, they’ll need to master the art of essay writing. Essays can level the playing field, and help infuse personality into an otherwise flat application process.
  • Look local, start small. Direct students to their neighborhood library to research local civic organizations, religious groups, and businesses that may be offering scholarship opportunities. These tend to be for smaller amounts, but as any student collecting college money knows, those smaller quantities add up fast.
  • Aim big and know where to look. Sites like Tuition Funding Sources can help students filter through thousands of scholarships based on personal criteria. That lets them spend their time applying — not searching. TFS even features a “scholarship of the day,” every day. It’s a great eye-opener for students who may not feel particularly scholarship-worthy because they weren’t a star athlete or head of their class. Here they’ll see money is available for everyone from animal lovers to aspiring filmmakers.
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Keys to a successful college interview

Know yourself, be yourself, and believe in yourself.

College interviews can be a key piece that helps both students and schools determine if they are the right match for one another. So what can students do to help ensure a successful college interview?

Fortunately, we have advice from someone who conducts those interviews himself. Benigno Salazar is an analytic consultant with the Wells Fargo Consumer Lending finance group. He is also a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and volunteers for his alma mater to conduct one-on-one admissions interviews. He gave us an inside look at what college interviewers are looking for.

Looking for a good fit

So what are colleges really looking for when they interview students?

“The bottom line is that I’m looking for a good fit with MIT,” said Salazar. He said that during the interview, he’s trying to find out about the student’s character, their experiences and their interests, and that they’ll contribute to the objective of the school.

“It’s a dialogue,” he said. “I’m trying to get to know them.”

While interviewing potential students, Salazar said he asks questions that allow students to share life experiences and demonstrate their determination. He also offers opportunities for students to ask questions, which he encourages.

“It’s important to ask questions,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for both parties to get to know one another. We expect students to ask questions to be able to make decisions for themselves.”

Students: know yourself

One of the most important ways to prepare for a college interview is to know yourself, Salazar said.

Students should take the time to really understand what they’ve done to prepare for college, and how they’ve made their interests into a tangible action. Salazar recommends that students have concrete examples of what they’ve done as an illustration.

“Students should be themselves during an interview,” he added. “They should understand what’s important to them, what they’ve done, and be able to talk about that.”

Practicing with a mock interview can help, he noted. It allows students to figure out how to word things well, to help them with poise and posture, and get more comfortable talking about themselves and telling their story.

“The trap they should avoid is having prepared speeches of things they think the institute wants to hear,” he added. “It will be a red flag and will not impress the interviewer.”

College interviews are really all about the students, and their motivation.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it needs to be about students: their interests, what they’ve done–not what parents want them to do or say,” Salazar said. “They need to show that they’re self-driven, versus mom or dad pushing them along. At the university level you have to have the drive to do the work on your own. I can detect when the student isn’t as animated about it.”

Be on time; be engaged

Doing two simple things will help students make a good impression during their college interview: be on time for the interview, and be engaged during the interview. Fail to do either of these, and it may be a deal breaker.

Showing up late to an interview? It should never happen, but if it does—call the interviewer. “The interview is an opportunity and if you show up late and don’t call, that tells me what I need to know,” Salazar said.

It’s also critical for students to be mindful of the impression they’re giving and to stay engaged during the interview. “How you conduct yourself will show if you’re a good fit, and whether you have the attention span to handle rigorous work,” Salazar noted.

Believe in yourself”

There’s one additional message Salazar has for students as they head into college interviews: believe in yourself.

“I’ve had students who seem to have low self-esteem despite their accomplishments,” he said. “It can be a concern, especially in a highly competitive environment.”

As an alumni volunteer interviewing students, Salazar doesn’t focus as much on academic achievement as others might; he looks for character, motivation, skills and interests. And he encourages students to at least explore a college, rather than assume it’s not for them.

“There are students who could do well here who either don’t know about MIT, or wrongly think it’s not for them,” he said. “The answer is awareness. Students should at least look into it if the college’s mission is in their interest area. Give yourself a chance, let the institution decide.”


More about Benigno Salazar

Benigno Salazar is one of 11 children to parents who were farm workers in Salinas, California.

Benigno was first in his family to graduate from college, and was the first Latino in his community to attend MIT–but he didn’t want to be the last. His goal was to do well enough in college for others, including his brother, to attend as well—which he did. Benigno was awarded the Albert G. Hill Prize for academic excellence and continued contributions to the MIT community. And Benigno didn’t stop there; he has continued to be an advocate for higher education, most notably, actively volunteering to recruit students to MIT from the Salinas Valley community. All recruited students have gone on to graduate and have become successful professionals.

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Getting ready for PSAT/NMSQT

The PSAT/NMSQT is the first test to give your student real practice for the college admissions tests. It is a good preview of what the ACT and SAT tests are like, both in length and in type of question, and can help your student identify areas that they need to study for the ACT or SAT.

On top of providing a very good simulation of the upcoming tests that your student will take for college admissions, the PSAT/NMSQT automatically puts your student in the running for the National Merit® Scholarship Program, and offers your student the chance to share their test scores with colleges that they may be interested in. Typically, once these colleges receive your student’s test score, they will send information about their campus, upcoming tours, college fairs, and any other outreach they have for possible new students.

There are a few things your student should know about the test and what they can do to prepare:

When is the test?

The PSAT/NMSQT is offered to high school sophomores and juniors in the fall. This year, the test day options are:

  • October 14, 2015
  • October 28, 2015

What is the test like?

The PSAT is likely much longer than any test your student has taken so far, and covers many different subjects. Help your student get comfortable with what the test will look like with this preview.

How to prepare

Practice tests are always a good idea, and they are a worthy study method to help your student adjust to this form of test taking.

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How to find scholarships and grants

Finding the money: jumpstart your search

College can be really expensive. However, you may not know there is free money out there, waiting for you. You just have to know where to find it. Scholarships and grants are a good way to reduce the cost of college, but finding and qualifying for this money may take some thinking ahead. Here are some tips to jumpstart your scholarship search:

Grants and scholarships, oh my!
Grants and scholarships are forms of aid that you don’t have to pay back. In other words, grants and scholarships are free money. (However, you might have to pay back part or all of a grant if you withdraw from school before finishing an enrollment period.) Of course, that doesn’t mean getting them is easy. Some grants, like the Pell Grant through the U.S. government, are for students who have exceptional financial need and require filling out forms to apply. Some scholarships operate more like scholarship contests and require an essay or creative submission in order be considered.

Start your search
Begin your search for grants and scholarships by making a list of things that make you unique and potentially worthy of support from an organization. How are you different from other students? Why might you benefit from extra financial support? Scholarships are often funded by organizations that want to further a specific cause. If you have a specific artistic or musical talent, you might be able to get funding to study your craft. If you are a member of a minority religious, racial, or ethnic group, a church or community organization might offer money to help you achieve your dreams. There are tons of scholarships out there, awarded for everything from veteran status and sexual orientation to athletic ability and country of ancestry. The opportunities are vast, so don’t be afraid the think outside the box.

Use your resources
You might find great scholarships through a free scholarship database like Tuition Funding Sources (TFS), TFS effectively matches applicants with scholarships based on their own unique goals and interests providing access to over 7 million scholarships totaling more than $41 billion to help pay for college. Or dive into Wells Fargo’s guide to finding scholarships and grants for additional ideas to get started, but that is not all. Ask around in your communities; your school counselor, pastor, coach, or mentor may know of a local scholarship that’s right for you. Ask other people in your life how they afforded to go to college. Perhaps you can qualify for the same scholarship your friend’s older sister earned the year before.

Maximize your odds
The more scholarships you apply for, the more chances you have to earn much-needed cash for college. Start applying early in order to maximize the amount of money you qualify for. Don’t hold back. You never know where you’ll find your break.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to paying for college, but good planning and creative thinking can often help ease college expenses. Start now and hopefully you’ll be rolling in scholarship stipends by the time the acceptance letters come pouring in.

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Five tips to better prepare your students for the SAT/ACT

As you’re aware, the SAT and ACT are right around the corner. By now your students may feel comfortable in the standardized test arena, but may not feel confident about the two with the biggest stakes. Here are five useful tips to help equip them for the big day.

  • Provide a study workbook. One thing that makes the SAT and ACT different is their unique format and timing. For this reason, we recommend SAT and ACT workbooks, found online or at your local bookstore. By letting students get familiar with practice test materials, they can master its cadence in a penalty-free space. That way they won’t be caught off guard on the big day.
  • Recharge for optimum performance. Strongly encourage your students to get at least eight or nine hours of rest before the big day. As with any test, a student’s mind needs to be performing at its best, especially on the day of the exam.
  • Offer an SAT prep class. Give your students an early jump on studying so they know the material along with the layout of the test beforehand. SAT preparatory classes are provided online or at most schools, and offer the ability to hone in on test-taking skills while boosting confidence. As you know, the tests don’t measure what students can cram in the week before, but instead, what students have learned throughout their education.
  • Provide a reading list. The SAT is more language-focused than the ACT. It’s also chock full of words that your students may be unfamiliar with – that’s because a percentage of language is pulled from colloquialisms, region-specific nouns, or terms that don’t see much light in 2015. But this doesn’t mean you need to cram a ton of vocabulary lessons into their daily routine. Classic literature can help students improve their comprehension skills as well as expand their vocabulary.
  • Guessing vs. skipping. In the past, guessing on the SAT was not recommended because it could hurt a student’s score. However, starting this year, the SAT has taken a new approach to the grading system and will only be counting the correct answers — just like on the ACT. Whichever test they’re taking, instruct your students to go ahead and give a difficult question their best guess instead of skipping ahead.

Do you have any useful tips to help better prepare students for the big testing day? Share your expertise with fellow school counselors and the Wells Fargo Community.

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Last chance for seniors to take the SAT or ACT

If your senior wants a final chance to take the SAT or ACT test, be sure he or she gets registered by the deadlines.

You can help your student prepare for these tests by encouraging them to study and take practice tests online in the weeks leading up to the test. There are online test prep options for the both the SATand the ACT.

Then, as the test gets closer, encourage your student to relax and take care. Talk to your student about the importance of getting a good night’s sleep before the exams, and eating a good breakfast on test morning.

Be sure to check out where the test site is located ahead of time, and have your student double-check that they have all their materials ready to go the night before the test. Here’s a checklist for ACT test takers. And here’s one for SAT test takers.

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How to get into college

Three tips to help you stay on track

College can supply you with the tools needed to operate within a vast and complicated world. In studying for your next economics final, you’re also preparing for the real economic and social obstacles that await post-graduate life. But before you enter your new college life, there are a number of things to iron out depending on what school you’re trying to get into. No matter what you choose, here are three simple steps to help ensure you stay on track:

  • Research your dream school

Researching the school you want to go to means more than a walk through campus with a potential classmate. Do your due diligence to make sure the college offers the program you’re looking for, the classes that fulfill your educational needs, and the environment that suits your personality. After you’ve found your goldilocks campus, you will have much clearer idea of what you need for your application.

Perhaps your dream school is an in-state university that doesn’t require letters of recommendation, but has a great journalism program that requires a separate exam for admission. Scratch the standard “request letters of recommendation” off your to-do list and start brushing up on the exam requirements in its place.

  • Identify scholarship opportunities

After all your application materials are in hand, you’re ready to start applying to those dream schools. Before you take that step, take a look at the room and board and yearly tuition of each school. Out of budget? It may be time to look into scholarship opportunities.

There a variety of ways to find scholarships that can be applied across a multitude of fields and needs. Just remember: your needs are specific, so be sure to search for financial aid opportunities that are appropriate for your personal and academic qualifications.

  • Evaluate student loan options

The final element of this trifecta is evaluating your need for student loans. Though many students will start with federal loan options, these loans may be limited to basic funds that might not cover the full cost of college. Students looking for additional funding options may turn to private student loans as another option to fill the financial gaps.

The journey to a college degree is exciting, and a time of great academic exploration. Enjoy your journey in finding the college and education plan that is a good fit for you.

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Laying out the college roadmap

Senior year is a busy time for students as they get ready for college. Fall of senior year is a good time for parents to step in and help lay out the roadmap of the goals and deadlines that will guide your student through all the tasks involved in college preparation.

First semester: application time

Your student’s first semester will be focused on both college and scholarship applications, so talk with your student about making a plan for getting these completed:

  • What tasks are involved with each? Help your student break down each item into manageable mini-deadlines.
  • Who do they plan to ask for recommendations? Encourage your student to reach out to these adults early, to give them plenty of time to write a good recommendation.
  • When is the deadline for completing essays? Keep the earliest deadline in mind, and help your student work towards that.

Encourage your student to look ahead and build in enough time to get their applications sent in without any frantic late-night sessions, or last-minute requests for transcripts.

Second semester: all the details come together

Things really kick into high gear during the second semester, so you’ll want to help your student have another plan of action ready for the upcoming deadlines and decisions. Among the tasks your student should plan for are:

  • Completing the FAFSA. All students and parents should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1. Gather tax documents and other necessary paperwork ahead of time to streamline the application process.
  • College selection. This may be the biggest task of the semester. Now is the time to compare award letters carefully and have your student make a decision. Next, be sure your student mails in the tuition deposit by the deadline in order to secure admission.
  • AP tests. If your student is taking an Advanced Placement (AP) class, encourage them to take the test that may allow them to gain college credit for the class. Look ahead to testing dates, get registered, and have your student talk with his or her AP teacher about how to prepare.
  • Orientation. College orientation can sometimes come up very quickly after graduation. Once your student has selected a college, look ahead to orientation dates and choose one that works with your family’s calendar. Register early to secure your preferred timeframe.
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Extracurricular activities can help you land your dream school

As you begin your junior year, your academics are still critical, but it’s time to also consider how your extracurricular activities could improve your chances of being accepted into your dream college.

If you need to work, don’t worry. Having a part-time job may help demonstrate to admissions that you have good time-management and other transferrable skills. Interning and volunteering are also great ways to stand out. Imagine you’re applying for a coveted pre-med spot at a top school. Steady volunteering with a local hospital would show your dedication, make your application more appealing and possibly even open doors to field-specific scholarships.

Colleges are looking for well-rounded individuals with focus and drive – who can balance work, hobbies, sports, and school. Having a plan for your extracurricular activities will give you a leg up during the college admissions process and a better opportunity for receiving a scholarship. Here are a few resources to help you form your strategy:

  • Understand all of your options. Which activities do colleges want to see? Not only do colleges look at your grades and the difficulty level of your courses, but the activities you participate in during high school have an impact, too. Take a look at this list of extracurriculars that can impress admissions officers.
  • Be strategic in choosing extracurriculars. Form a plan to choose and prioritize your extracurricular activities. Read these great responses on strongchoosing extracurricular activities from current college students and school advisors who have been through the admissions process.
  • Think ahead and align your extracurricular activities with your career path.Position your job, hobbies, community service, and activities with a possible career path you are interested in. This will show college admissions counselors that you are focused and dedicated.
  • Do things you enjoy. This is your future, so make sure your strategy starts with a foundation of passion. Find activities, jobs, and community service that you truly like doing. Watch this video from a Dean of Undergraduate Admissions discussing what he looks for in extracurricular activities.
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Six ways to map out the year ahead

The upcoming school year is approaching fast, and there’s no question that you have a lot on your plate. By simply outlining your academic year, you can equip yourself to better prepare your students for college. Here are six ideas to help you map out the academic year and to prepare your students for the year ahead.

  • Improve your communication strategy. Plenty of communication resources are available to get the most from your interactions with students. With services like Remindand Hubspot, you can instantly and effectively connect with your students by allowing your advising office to streamline its messaging for the year. This will help you stay on top of your student communications, and it can even automate your tweets, texts, and emails.
  • Eliminate frequently asked questions. Are you spending a lot of time answering common questions from students in your one-on-one meetings? Time with your students is precious, so to be more effective during meeting times, empower students with the answers to common questions prior to your student-advisor meetings. Flyers, brochures, and emails are great communication methods to answer FAQs.
  • Provide your students with resources. Offer your students enlightening information on how to accomplish goals, stay organized, and choose the right AP classes. Help your students establish the right study skillsand effective time managementbefore taking on these more difficult classes.
  • Know college admissions better than anyone. The more you understand the college admissions process, the more you can increase your students’ and parents’ knowledge and confidence in the year ahead. Step into the shoes of your students and research all you can about applying to college.
  • Be present on social media. Plan out your posts ahead of time to remind students of application deadlines, testing dates, and even guest speakers. A professional Twitter or Facebook account will help you keep up with your students’ college interests as you post your own thoughts, along with resources for both students and parents.

How are you making the most of the upcoming year with your students? Take to Twitter and the Wells Fargo Community to share your advice.

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