Learning that the prospective college student is eligible to receive a scholarship is usually one of the more pleasant components in finding the best fit while pursuing higher education.
As you narrow down your top schools, hopefully you receive a scholarship letter or letters announcing you are a recipient of a monetary award or awards that will offset your tuition costs this fall.
I advise you to read and re-read this letter and have a family member do the same so you have a complete understanding of the letter’s contents and ramifications.
A “best in practice” scholarship letter should contain: a monetary offer, criteria for renewal, deadline for acceptance, duration of the award and any exceptions or exclusions regarding its renewal.
Most colleges award on a yearly basis and divide the total awards equally across the number of semesters in a given academic or calendar year. Be on the alert for phrases like “up to” when the amount listed is the maximum award, but not necessarily the amount you would be awarded.
Also, the scholarship letter should clearly state whether or not the award is renewable. A student who receives multiple scholarships could have an added scholarship specific to only the first year in college.
Also, some scholarships require that students maintain a minimum grade point average, full-time or continuous enrollment status, appropriate social/academic conduct and even a specific campus residence status.
Colleges should state or attach a form that instructs prospective students to accept or decline a scholarship offer, just as the FAFSA does with certain grants and loans. Colleges also can state the deadline for which the offer will expire unless an appeal is approved in advance.
Finally, I advise you to carefully read any noted exceptions and exclusions. Examples might include summer sessions as many schools award scholarships for only the fall and spring semesters.
Also, what is the status of the scholarship if you wish to study abroad for a term?
Another possible exclusion might be triggered if you change your major. The implications related to these scenarios should be clearly spelled out in your scholarship letter.
My next two columns, in April and May, will focus on award letters and the billing statement. This intentional timing is generally in sync with the months in which many colleges finalize these documents and send to prospective/incoming students.
Dennis M. Kelly is Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management at Wilmington College.