College Scholarships: Time Is Money, So Spend Wisely.

Big news around here yesterday for J: we found out he was accepted at his first choice college! Much like our experience when college-hunting for D, we knew within minutes of setting foot on campus that the school was “the one”. The school is a private college, which means anyone who is uninitiated in the ways of college shopping would have a heart attack upon seeing the total cost involved of an education there. For us, although the sticker shock never really goes away, we know how to best prepare. He will be receiving a nice merit scholarship that will take the cost down by about a third and will be auditioning for a music scholarship this winter (they offer music scholarships for non-majors!), for starters.

In addition to J working to help further decrease the cost and what Jim and I can contribute, J is going to need to get some extra help so we can all attain our goal of his only having to take out a government loan rather than private loans. The hunt for college scholarships has begun.

My deal with J (as it was with D) is that, after he assists in setting up his profile on the websites that search for scholarships based on the information you provide (and then they are listed all in one place), I will go through said list of scholarships and weed out the ones for which he isn’t eligible and mark the ones that are a fit. That saves him a nice chunk of time. Then, it’s up to him to do the work for each individual scholarship.

First, the good news: I’m working on our favorite scholarship website right now, and after weeding out the ones that aren’t a fit for him eligibility-wise, he’s still got 122 scholarships in the list that have a combined value of $813,450. While most individual scholarships are in the $500-2500 range, there are a few that are between $10,000 and $25,000.

The bad news: What I discovered this morning in reading through the list of scholarships is how some of them are choosing a winner. More than once, more than twice, more than three times I read “Post your entry at *insert website url here* and then ask your family and friends to go there vote for you! The winning entry will be the one with the most votes at the end of the voting period!”

After reading that, I heard tires screeching to a stop in my brain.

This is not right.

For one thing, I’m not big on anything that requires people to beg for votes. I have many friends who have either voluntarily entered contests that require daily vote-begging just to stay in contention, and I have friends who have been “nominated” for an “honor”, an honor which requires the prodding of friends and family to vote. I know more than one person who has been involved in something like this and then is accused of cheating/bending rules/finding loopholes in order to win no matter what the cost (even though they didn’t) by fans of the people who came up short.

In addition, I would bet a lot of money (if I had it) that, in nine out of ten scenarios in which voting is a part of “winning”, the sole purpose of the contest/scholarship/whatever is to drive traffic to that particular website, period. Everyone who is begging for votes is being used, plain and simple.

Most importantly in this case, I believe strongly in the value of time. For my son to be required to spend time trying to get people to go and vote for a scholarship entry when he could spend the same amount of time working, studying, enjoying downtime, or even working on lots of other scholarship entries–entries which are judged according to certain criteria and not votes–well, that’s just ridiculous.

I don’t need to call anyone out on this: just like anything else, I can choose to avoid it. That’s why, when I find college scholarships whose winners are determined by vote, I just hit “delete”.

What do you think about this? Whether you have a kid at or near college age or not, I’d love to know.

By the way, if you’re curious about other ins and outs of searching for college scholarships, check out this comprehensive post I wrote early this summer.


  • Cher@MomandMore

    I am so glad I don’t have to think about this for a few years 🙂 I hate voting contests too and have only been in one myself (I was nominated) and recently I nominated a fellow blogger because she deserves it and honestly it was a campaign I signed up for. For scholarships though that would be a pain to have your friends and family vote in this one, that one, and 20 more — although I’d vote for your son 🙂

    • Melisa

      Thanks. I’ll tell him. 🙂

      Yes, and you know, there are some campaigns out there that require voting that I don’t look at in the same way, I guess. I might be contradicting myself here but I have never personally seen any issues with things like the Our Town, Our Heroes monthly vote for community heroes (mentioning that specifically because in Chicago we all know GM and Connie and OTOH) and I guess I don’t have a problem with that: I don’t feel “bothered” or harrassed to vote on that…so maybe I shouldn’t generalize. But in the case of scholarships, I’m totally against it. Thanks for bringing that up so I could further clarify what I’m thinking.

  • Ellie

    My son, a high school senior, is in the college search process as well, and it’s overwhelming. It’s easy to say let the teenager handle it, but parents have to be involved as well because there’s so much information out there. And with this voting nonsense you write about, it seems to be more like a game. Its so competitive to get into a good university, which is a good indication of what the job search will be like.

    • Melisa

      RIGHT? VERY overwhelming.

      And there are so many people who do just say, “Eh, if your kid wants it badly enough, he’ll do it!” Frankly though, many ADULTS don’t even understand the process so to throw a kid into a foreign situation like that–one that has so much impact on his future–without help is silly.

  • Just Jen

    As a current college student right now, I am well versed in the “vote here” scholarship racket. I think it’s crap, quite frankly, and I have avoided it at all costs. Scholarships used to be based on merit – your grades, extra curricular activities, community involvement, and your essay. In a nutshell – who YOU were. Not what you can do for ME. I have been very fortunate to have received Pell Grants, Illinois MAP Grants, and a scholarship in my field of study (based on a professor recommendation and an essay) to defer the cost of my community college tuition (no where NEAR private college, but overwhelming for a single mom) that I could avoid these “scholarship contests”. But for some kids, this may be the only option they have.

    • Melisa

      Good point, Jen. The other problem I see in it, though, is this: even though winning any kind of scholarship isn’t within an entrant’s control, the voting ones are especially out of his/her control. Imagine spending hours and hours (when you combine time) begging for votes, and then suddenly someone else who 1)put in five more minutes or 2)has way more friends and family comes in at the last minute and “wins”. I think what I’m saying (do you like that? “I THINK what I’m saying…” haha!) is that I feel like that vote-begging time can be spent doing other things with a higher rate of return, like entering countless other scholarships whose winners ARE decided on merit…because they’re still out there.

      • Just Jen

        Or they figure out a way to have a bot vote for them! I definitely agree that there are better and more productive ways to spend time finding scholarship money. Your son is lucky that he has such as awesome mom that will help him through the “first round”!

  • connie burke

    Thanks for the shout-out (and for not generalizing!).
    I know what you mean, though. I’ve been thru this with both my kids and I’d rather have a root canal performed by a medieval dentist than go thru that again.
    Appreciate the comments and constant support for Our Town, Our Heroes from my Chicago community. All yall are simply the best.

    • Melisa

      Well, after I hit “publish” I realized that it sounded like I was generalizing so I wanted to clarify, even at the risk of sounding wishy-washy. I’m not usually a “black or white” kind of person but sometimes I go off the rails about things like this scholarship voting.

      And I’m with you on the medieval dentist root canal. I will be thrilled to be through this stage (in many ways).

  • Megan Broutian

    I’m saddened by the epidemic of turning anything and everything into a media/popularity contest. It’s one thing to do it with insipid reality or talent shows, I have a big problem when it’s being done to a traditionally (and rightfully so) merit-based criterion. Our values as a society are going down the tubes faster than Kim Kardashian’s marriage. I’m with you on this one!

  • Grandma W

    This is very bad having a voting system. I would think they ask for the persons information and then sell it to all sorts of companies and you end up getting lots of spam. Not a good thing for sure.

    How lucky would it be to get your name pulled? I don’t think that would be the answer to have your time spent like that. Good for you.

    Grandma W

  • Shannon

    Congrats to your son!!
    Thanks for posting your experiences with this very intimidating process. It helps those of us who are just starting to head down this path. It is definitely a learning process. My oldest is a sophomore in high school. I already stress about where she will go to college and how we will pay for it. I am hoping that it will be easier (less daunting) with the second and third child, no?
    And, the whole voting thing? Crazy.

    • Melisa

      I’m glad I can help. I know (obviously) exactly where you’re at, and it is very stressful but I have found that doing lots of research and getting the kid in question involved as much as possible (along with including him/her in the financial discussions) makes it lots easier. And yes, it is much easier the second time!

      Let me know if you have any questions along the way. I’m happy to toss you an assist!

  • Tara R.

    I don’t like the ‘vote begging’ either. There is something fishy about that, especially if you have to register an email to vote. My daughter didn’t even want to send HS graduation announcements to anyone other than family and very close friends, because she didn’t want to seem like she was begging for gifts/money.

    Good luck to J and his scholarship hunt, I’m sure he will be successful based on merit alone.

  • Trixie Wilkie ThrifTee Gear

    As our children have come (and some gone) through the process of college financial aid it is startling how confusing and difficult to sort out everything is. It just shouldn’t be so difficult. Scholarships are a particularly tricky piece of the financial aid world. I applaud you for not falling for the “scholarships” requiring votes. I too avoid any suposedly objective competition that involves a popularity contest contrived by “audience” voting. Best wishes in figuring it all out. The most important thing I’ve learned, which you already are, is to start early!

  • Patty

    Congrats to J on his acceptance! Nice an early to get his answer. For me that was the best part of senior year, by early October I knew where I was going.

    I am shocked that voting for scholarships is even something they would suggest a student do. It’s absurd. I remember the good old days when scholarship were based on academic accomplishments or a personal talent. It’s crazy.