Every scholarship road begins with the FAFSA.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a government form that requests income information about your family. In order to be eligible for any federal or state grants, loans, or work-study programs the FAFSA must be filled out. Colleges will usually not release private scholarship funds either until they have your FAFSA results. This means your parents will need to set new records in getting their income tax filled out. No more mailing it from the last postal pickup on April 15th! Scholarship money is often dispersed by March, so FAFSA and income tax forms need to be completed as soon as the last W-2 arrives.

Read the fine print on merit scholarship awards.

They are not all created equal and our experience has been quite varied. One of my students, in order to keep all of his scholarship money had to maintain a 3.3 GPA (grade point average). In other words, any "C" earned required two "A's" to counteract it. This required excelling in every course and being average in nothing. That's pressure! Another of my students, also receiving merit scholarship money, was only required to make "reasonable progress" in his college level work. This policy, not strictly tied to his GPA, allowed some breathing room and did not require him to perform equally well in all classes.

Don't despise small schools.

Sometimes a huge thriving university offers the resources you need. But being one person in a student body of tens of thousands can be a lonely existence. Depending on your personality, you may find a better fit in a smaller school. Small colleges have advantages of their own. The professor generally teaches classes of smaller size allowing for more individual help. Contrast that with the large university, where you can expect to share the lecture hall with perhaps as many as five hundred freshmen. The professor's position may require extensive involvement in research projects, necessitating his graduate assistant to do most of the teaching. Which scenario do you prefer?

Don't make any final decisions without visiting the campus.

Anything can look good on paper and in still photographs. Expect all the students pictured to be beautiful, smiling, and having a great time while diligently studying! If possible, visit the campus more than once. Attend classes. Stay in the dorm. It's only through visiting that you will begin to learn the feel of that college community and whether it's a comfortable fit for you.

If you are a Christian, be sure the college you choose will nourish your faith.

Sometimes the college years can be a time of straying from the faith of your childhood. This can lead to deep regrets that aren't easily overcome. Rather, strive to make your college years a time of growth in Christian maturity, when your walk with the Lord deepens into something that is distinctly your own. Then the academic degree you earn will mark not only a growth in knowledge, but also a growth in wisdom. The Lord bless you in the college decision before you!

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Copyright, 2004. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Diana Johnson is a pastor's wife, homeschool mom of 21 years, and manager of the homeschool department at the Scroll Christian Bookstore in Tyler, TX. Her publications include Home-Designed High School and When Homeschooling Gets Tough. For information, visit www.homedesignedschooling.com. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com