Scholarships for college often go unclaimed

ByABC News
May 14, 2009, 11:21 PM

— -- The staff at Scholarship America, the nation's largest scholarship administrator, fielded more phone calls from families this year and noticed a heightened sense of urgency among callers.

Berea College, the Kentucky campus that gives every accepted student a full-tuition scholarship, saw a 15% uptick in applications for this fall.

And the number of families who filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid jumped almost 21% the first three months of 2009.

How to pay for college is clearly on people's minds. Yet when the college scholarship season winds to a close this summer, there will be millions of dollars in scholarships for the fall left unused, says Scholarship America CEO Clifford Stanley. Just one in 10 full-time students at four-year colleges had some kind of scholarship for the 2007-08 school year; the average amount, $2,815, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study by the U.S. Department of Education.

Students either don't apply or don't apply on time. But it's neither too early to start planning for scholarships for upcoming years nor too late to apply for certain scholarships for classes that begin in the fall. Some tips:

Start early. Many scholarships are available only to students who apply in their junior year in high school. Also, Stanley recommends students who hope to attend military academies get to know their congressional representatives so they can seek appointments later. And, he says, many scholarship sponsors offer mentoring programs that begin tracking students in junior high.

Avoid silly and fatal application errors. "Read and follow all directions closely, and proof your essay several times," says Ellen Greene, scholarship coordinator for the retailer Nordstrom, which offers 40 scholarships annually.

Adds Stanley: "Take time to spell check. Take time to try to write a cogent sentence. You could find an extremely talented student overlooked because they don't know basic syntax because they've been Twittering and texting now for years."