Get real on scholarships

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 6:03 PM

As the parent of a soon-to-be college student, I'm privy to a lot of conversations other parents have about their child's chances of getting significant scholarship or grant money.

I have one word to describe many of these conversations: delusional.

It's delusion that soothes many parents who know they haven't saved as much as they could have saved, and/or those who cheer their children on to go to their college of choice regardless of the cost. They think if their child gets superior grades, can play an instrument exceptionally well or is a star athlete, he or she will qualify for substantial financial assistance.

Some will. Most won't.

If you need a reality check or, most importantly, strategies to win what money is out there, I'm recommending as the Color of Money Book Club selection this month "Secrets to Winning a Scholarship" by Mark Kantrowitz. The book, available exclusively on, costs $9.95, and $5.95 on Kindle.

Kantrowitz is one of the leading experts on college financing and is the publisher of, a free scholarship matching service, and, which provides some of the best financial aid information available online.

Kantrowitz starts out with some truth-telling. The fact is, very few students receive enough scholarships and grants (including state and federal need-based and non-need-based aid) to cover all college costs. Of the students enrolled full time at four-year colleges in the 2007-08 school year, only 0.3 percent (be sure you read that right: not 3 percent but 0.3 percent) received enough money to cover the full cost of attendance, according to Kantrowitz, whose statistics come from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study and analyses of various Fastweb databases.

Only about one in 10 undergraduate students in bachelor's degree programs wins a private scholarship, on average about $2,800 a year.

Here's what he says about the prospects of earning scholarships:

l Good grades matter. But only about 19 percent of high school students with a grade-point average of 3.5 to 4.0 (on a 4.0 scale) get the awards.

l Among all students, not just those enrolled full time at four-year colleges, the odds of gaining an athletic scholarship are just 0.7 percent.

l Having a high SAT score does increase your odds. Still, only 13 percent of students with 1,300-to-1,400 scores get money.

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