Giving Thought: It’s scholarship season!
With their college applications out the door, most of the valley’s college-bound high school seniors are switching tracks and contemplating the financial component of their post-secondary life.
This is a big deal. Student loan debt in the U.S. is up to $1.75 trillion, according to the Education Data Initiative, and the cost of college continues to escalate. So, counselors from Aspen to Parachute are urging members of the Class of 2022 to look everywhere they can for sources of financial support.
The good news, according to counselors, is that dozens of businesses, nonprofits, service clubs, foundations, families and individuals pony up every year to help send graduates from their communities off to their next educational adventure. At both Aspen and Basalt high schools, roughly $350,000 is awarded every year to students bound for either four-year colleges or one- and two-year technical/vocational schools.
These awards vary widely in their amounts, their criteria and their aims. Aspen Community Foundation holds nine scholarship funds, which are aimed at students in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. Most are one-time awards, but others are renewable if a student decides to seek some help in year number two.
At Aspen High School, roughly 80 out of 130 graduates are likely to receive some kind of scholarship award. In Basalt, where there are fewer students, roughly 60 out of 100 graduates will get some help. An award from $1,000 to $5,000 may not determine whether a student attends college, but it absolutely could influence where the student chooses to enroll. And even if a family still needs to borrow money to pay for college, every single gift helps to lower that debt burden.
Susanne Morrison, post-secondary counseling administrative coordinator at AHS, says this is her favorite time of year.
“I love interacting with the donors,” she said. “It’s so uplifting to see how much they care about young people and their dreams for the future. And the students and families feel so supported by their hometown. It makes (Aspen) feel like a small town again.”
Many of the scholarships are geared for students who demonstrate a financial need for the help. But others seek to help students with certain talents and desires: athletes, visual artists, performing artists, wordsmiths and mathematicians, for example. Some scholarships are created in memory of a family member who had a particular interest or wanted to help youth with similar interests or qualities.
Fraternal orders and service clubs are also big on scholarships because the transition from high school to college and career is so important to both communities and the students themselves.
If you’re a high school senior or if you know one, then consider talking to a college counselor about the options. And don’t wait too long, because there’s a limited window of time for these submissions. The selection committees that review the scholarship applications need time to review each one.
“For the next few months, it gets real — what’s this going to cost, and what are my sources of support,” Morrison said.
There’s a big difference between the academic writing that students have learned in their classes and the personal, reflective writing they’re asked to do for college admissions officers and scholarship committees. It’s a new kind of thought process to sell yourself, talk about your own experiences and the lessons you’ve learned. And, of course, every scholarship committee is unique and looking for something different from applicants.
“There’s a pretty wide range of scholarships,” said Alexandra Braeger, college/career counselor at Basalt High School. “One common factor that really rings true for these committees is students who have volunteered their time in school clubs or nonprofits and show a genuine desire to serve.”
It also helps to be organized and plan ahead.
“The most success I see is from those students who set aside time every week to work on this,” Braeger said. “It’s a lot to put together.”
And, while this column is devoted to the local scholarship opportunities available from Aspen to Parachute, don’t forget that many colleges and universities will kick in some financial help too. So don’t forget to ask the institutions themselves about financial aid.
Good luck to all of our graduating seniors!
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.