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Many employers, especially large ones, provide scholarships even if they don't advertise the opportunities.
When Morgan Brunson was a senior in high school, she discovered that her mom’s employer, Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois, offered college scholarships to employees' children.
Brunson applied and received a $300 scholarship to help pay for her books at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, where she is now a sophomore.
“Textbooks can be pretty pricey,” says Brunson, adding that the scholarship is particularly useful because “it’s every semester. It’s a renewable scholarship.”
Experts say that one of the most overlooked sources of college scholarships is the workplace, and yet it should be one of the first places families check for scholarship money.
“Most employees are not even aware of what their company offers,” says Jason Lum, a private college counselor and founder of ScholarEdge College Consulting. “Most companies that are large – essentially any publicly listed company – generally has some sort of scholarship program available to dependents of employees.”
Here are four things families should know about employer or company scholarships.
1. The scholarship may not be advertised. Many employers do a notoriously bad job of advertising company scholarships, Lum says, and the programs are often buried in a once-a-year manual for self-enrollment benefits, such as retirement funds and life insurance.
Lum adds that this is one time where the answer likely won't be on the internet but could require you to call or email the human resources office to ask what, if any, scholarship programs are in place.
“Check with the HR person – it only takes a second to do – to see if there are opportunities for scholarships or matching scholarships,” says Ron Anderson, senior college counselor at Southland College Prep Charter High School in suburban Chicago, who formerly worked in admissions at the University of Chicago and Illinois State University. A matching scholarship is when the employer agrees to match the amount of money that the student receives from another scholarship source.
2. Families should try their labor union. Even if your workplace doesn’t offer scholarships, if you are in a labor union, the union might have its own scholarship program.
Lum says that when he was in high school, his father, who was then a valet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, was in a union for hotel workers. Lum was able to receive a $1,000 scholarship each year from the union as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis.
“If you’re a member of union, if you’re not calling your union rep to ask about scholarships either for yourself or for your kids, you’re making a huge mistake,” Lum says.
“These scholarships tend to be fairly easy to win. They’re often renewable, and it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
3. Students may eligible through their jobs. While as parents you should be checking with the human resources departments where you work, students who have part-time or summer jobs could also be checking for scholarships or tuition assistance programs at their workplaces.
Fast-food companies – such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell and many others – all offer employee scholarship programs. Major retailers such as Walmart also offer scholarships to employees.
[Find ways to turn summer jobs into scholarship opportunities.]
4. Employees and dependents should check the requirements. Depending on the company, the scholarships may ask for an essay or require that the student meet a certain GPA.
Brunson recalls that she had to write an essay about her prospective career path and have a 3.25 GPA, which she must maintain to keep receiving the scholarship.
“Some will have a clause that students who participate, their parents must have had a certain amount of longevity,” Anderson adds.
For instance, Walmart, which offers scholarships to both employees and their dependents, requires the employee to work for six consecutive months before he or she is eligible.
Lum says that even if the scholarship isn’t for a large amount, it's still worthwhile to apply.
“The good news is the companies love to disburse these scholarships pretty broadly,” Lum says. “They want to build goodwill with rank and file, even though the dollar amounts are not huge. The students I work with who apply for company scholarships have a fairly high success rate.”
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