Scholarships are out there, but whether or not students are applying for them is another matter. Across Summit County, high school counselors and scholarship offices are posting on the bulletin boards, sending out newsletters and emails, flooding students with options during the height of scholarship application season, when more scholarships are due than any other time of year.
Federal and state grants are available, but to qualify for the fall, students will need to get the ball rolling. From big box stores and national chains to local community organizations, businesses and nonprofits are requesting applications, offering up hundreds of millions of dollars based on everything from GPAs and test scores to club activities and volunteer work.
"It is scholarship season," said Nancy Michalko, the Scholarship Adviser for Park City High School. " There is a lot of money out there to catch for the students who are interested."
"They just have to apply," she added. "I try to make these opportunities available, but it can be hard to know how many kids follow through and fill the applications out. A lot of students say they are interested in scholarships, but not many take the time to do it."
Students are mostly likely to receive a scholarship through the university they plan to attend, said North Summit High School Counselor Lance Pace, adding that the fact was especially true for Utah's public colleges.
"It certainly is the most convenient way," he said, "and it's frustrating when students are not even exploring that route."
"There are a lot of scholarships out there," Pace added. "If a student is diligent enough and fills out the application, I'm confident they will get help."
Nationally, roughly 12 percent students or one in eight enrolled full-time in a four-year college or university in 2003-04 received scholarships, each worth $2,223, according to data from the scholarship website FinAid.com. One in 10 students received scholarships worth $2,815 on average in 2007-08, showing that though the amount awarded grew, the number of applicants declined in that span.
A decade ago, scholarships were easier to come by, but following the recession students had to work harder to stand out, Michalko said, but the number of available scholarships is slowly on the rise again.
"I think we have people who are not trying, and they not getting the money," she said. "We also have people who try, and even though that is competitive, they tend to walk away with something. It's a numbers game. The more applications you do, the more likely you are to get a scholarship."
Regular scholarships that Park City students have come to county on, scholarships such as those from the University of Utah Honors Program, have become much more competitive in the past couple of years. Despite the necessary 4.0 GPA and score of 31 or better on the ACT, the full-ride tuition scholarships are being spread across more students from across the state.
Some students have come into her office on a weekly basis. One parent challenged her teenager to apply for one scholarship a week, and that student ended up turning away offers by the time he graduated. Last week, a student Michalko helped received a $5,000 Horatio Alger Scholarship for an essay.
Other students have been paid an hourly rate by parents for each application submitted, but if you don't do the work, you won't reap the rewards, Michalko said, meaning that every application takes time and energy. Putting in the right amount of energy is just as important as getting the application submitted in the first place.
"There are thousands and thousands of dollars out there that go to waste because kids don't apply," said Garry Walker, the high school counselor and scholarship adviser at South Summit High School. " Parents have to get involved in putting out applications. It is a matter of taking time to apply for scholarships."
"I wish there was more being done," he added. "... Most of the time, kids are not pushing out applications until very end. then, a good share of the scholarships are gone."
Though student interest wanes, Walker said some students, the ones who have put in a lot of energy, were able to fully pay for high school. He joked that one student had practically lived in his office, and at graduation he had more than $60,000 offered to him through various universities.
"Most of our kids put in one or two applications," he added, "but if they would put in more of an effort, there is more of an opportunity. When I raised my own kids, I had no clue how to get involved. Now, I know to really encourage parents because if I knew then what know now, my kids would have gotten scholarships instead of student loans."
The South Summit School District is scheduled to host a parent information night on financial aid and scholarship applications, as well as substance abuse awareness Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 5 to 6 p.m. in the South Summit High School Auditorium.