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Tips on how to take advantage of college scholarships that go unclaimed

Newport News students urged to apply for Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute scholarship
Posted at 4:40 PM, Mar 11, 2021

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — There's no denying that college is expensive and the process of finding scholarships may feel overwhelming.

If you want to keep more money in your pocket, educators say the best thing to do is get started and involved early.

"I've seen students who have been awarded multiple small scholarships, but end up covering their whole first year of college," said Jennifer Settar, a counselor at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake.

Settar has been a counselor in Chesapeake for the past five years, so she's helped quite a few students through the scholarship application process.

She said the first thing students and guardians should know is that the internet is flooded with scholarship opportunities ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

"There are some scholarships that are merit-based, so they will want to look at your classes and GPA. There are some that are need-based, so they will want some information from your FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid), but really there are scholarships out there for everything. There's one out there for folks that are left-handed," Settar said.

Aside from talking to a counselor, local organizations like the Hampton Roads Community Foundation or Southeast Virginia Community Foundation offer a list of scholarships.

From the Armed Forces to the Portsmouth Service League, there are niches for all students in all cities.

If you would prefer one-on-one help, you can also reach out to a school's financial aid office. Jeremi Watkins, the director of financial aid at Elizabeth City State University, said, "Our counselors will sit down with a student, or parent, and walk them through an application process [and] give them some advice on how to write an essay. Students can also use one essay and tweak it for different scholarship applications. If you're not tech-savvy, we are, so reach out on the phone, come by in person if it's safe to do so."

Watkins said because of the pandemic, there are more resources available this year for students than ever before. He recommends Access College Foundation for folks in Virginia and the College Foundation of North Carolina for those in the Tarheel state.

"It's important that when a student searches, they have as many avenues as they think they might be eligible for," he said.

Watkins also said that scholarships aren't only available for high school students. He said there are many opportunities for current students and even graduate students. "There's one [scholarship] in North Carolina for teachers that becomes available once you're admitted to a teaching program. That's for juniors, seniors, and up."

During this process, families will also want to watch out for scammers. It's important to know that you will never have to pay in order to apply.

As we're in the heart of scholarship season, students should also be aware of looming deadlines.

"Most of the deadlines are between March, April, and May, so this is the perfect time to start," Settar said.

Below are some links that may help in your scholarship search:

This story was published by Erin Miller at WTKR.