Guide to scholarship money in Michigan and best practices for applying

For most students, summer is a time to relax. It's the longest stretch of the year a teenager can go without worrying about the strain of endless assignments. But rising high school seniors aren't afforded the same rest. 

For the class of ‘25, the next few months will be crucial for those applying to college. And with the high cost of attending university not going anywhere, financial aid will be key to many hoping to enter higher education. 

Tuition for American colleges and universities is at an all-time high. Since 2000, the average cost of college has more than doubled. In-state students attending a public four-year institution and living on-campus spend an average of more than $27,000 in one academic year. 

Government aid helps to lower these costs, but recent hiccups with FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – have delayed students receiving official aid packages from their institutions. That's where outside scholarships can help - and according to the National Scholarship Providers Association, available money has only grown in recent years.

Yet, $100 million in scholarship money goes unclaimed every year, Forbes reports. The biggest reason for the unawarded money is a lack of applicants.

FOX 2 spoke with college success coach Keiarra Menefee for advice on how to get that money into aspiring students' pockets.

Focus on local over national

A common mistake students make when applying for scholarships is focusing on national scholarships that offer huge amounts of money. And while it may seem like working smarter by securing a full scholarship from one application, the chances of winning national awards are significantly lower than that of winning a smaller local scholarship. 

Menefee's biggest piece is for students to look at their own community when applying for scholarships,"Tap into communities you frequent."

After-school programs, internships, even a parent's workplace can have opportunities for scholarships. Students should turn over every stone.

There are a few benefits to starting with local applications. Not only is there a smaller pool of applicants who qualify for the opportunity, there is a stronger chance of standing out in a community that already knows the individual. 

Menefee says foundations are always looking to invest in students who they believe are the future of the city. Just like a sports team, everyone wants to root for their hometown, Menefee says.

Another strong resource Menefee recommends to students is the Michigan Achievement Scholarship. This program is designed to help recent graduates from high schools in Michigan receive funds for attending Michigan colleges. 

The Michigan Student Aid page of the state government website also has links for specific scholarships and grants organized by eligibility requirements.

What do I need to keep in mind when filling out applications?

Once you've found a scholarship you qualify for, read the instructions carefully. 

"Follow the directions to a T," Menefee said. 

One instruction that students struggle with is word count when writing essays or personal statements. Word counts are often exceeded when it comes to scholarship applications. Students are given broad prompts and a limited number of words or pages to tell their story. This is because committees receive thousands of applications in a cycle. It is easy to reject an applicant who doesn't follow directions.

For those struggling to stay within the limitations, Menefee recommends using a specific moment that makes a larger point. Menefee also said that students can feel pressured to tell a long, traumatic story to secure the empathy of the scholarship committee. 

"I don't even think you need to be the best writer. Just be authentic. It does not need to be all trauma. You just need to know how to tell your story," Menefee advised.

What if I am not a strong writer?

All students can benefit from additional aid, but not all students are strong writers. Often times, a good essay stands between an applicant and their award. How can students who struggle with writing get a fair chance at a scholarship?

Once again, Menefee directs students to their community.

"Writing is one of the biggest challenges I hear about," she said. "There are tons of untapped resources at schools, especially for college students. Check out your writing center. Speak to peers and professors. Tap into the resources at your school."

The importance of mentors cannot be understated either, Menefee says.

Students tap English teachers to review essays before submitting them. She also says that students can benefit from asking mentors about themselves. Gaining a fresh perspective on yourself can reduce writers' block when it comes to writing about one's self.

Can I reuse essays?

But sometimes the story has already been written. Menefee says students can also reuse or re-work old original works from class assignments to submit for scholarships.

"A lot of times, students have assignments and take them as a one-off thing, but you can pull from that," Menefee said.

Students apply for scholarships throughout their academic career, but that does not mean each application needs to start from scratch. Menefee encourages students to expand on old essays and reach out to mentors who have already written letters of recommendation when in a pinch for time. 

Where can I find scholarships