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Stats Watch

Small Scholarships: Students Can't Be Bothered

University Business, Aug 2005

With scholarships, students apparently want more buck for their bang. A poll of 500 visitors to the scholarship search site found that more than one-quarter would not apply for a scholarship worth less than $5,000; nearly half would only eye a prize of $1,000 or more. Typical visitors, President Mark Rothbaum says, are at the end of high school or in an early year of college; nearly 70 percent are seeking needs-based scholarships.

So why the hang-up about award amounts? Thinking that applications require significant effort (essay writing, recommendation letters, etc), students feeling time-strapped may be less likely to go for scholarships paying more modest amounts, surmises Melanie E. Corrigan, assistant director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education.

A 2004 ACE issue brief helps corroborate the new survey's findings about attitudes toward aid. The association found that half of all students, and one-third of full-time undergrads, don't apply for federal aid.'s findings are certainly unfortunate, Corrigan says. "While there's a lot of attention paid to the hundreds of institutions charging upwards of $30,000 or more in tuition, the vast majority of students are attending institutions at much more modest price points. A scholarship of $1,000-$2,000 can go a long way."

That's a message young adults may not be getting. "We need to tell students that it all adds up," Corrigan says, adding that institutions can do this by sharing information on the availability of aid from all sources, including private, outside ones.

"I think everybody has an obligation to say, 'Throw the net out pretty widely,'" agrees Cynthia Bailey, executive director, education finance at The College Board.

But Bailey isn't buying that students ignore potential aid sources. "That's not been my experience, from what I hear from campus people. Students are so strapped for money that they would apply for anything they possibly could apply for," she says.

Hopefully so, since those who don't give it their all on the aid front may be, as Rothbaum says, skipping over awards with a higher applicant success rate. That line of thinking, Corrigan notes, can put a young person's college access at risk. --M.E.

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