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College Scholarships and Other Options for an Affordable Degree

For many parents the cost of a college degree – tuition, room and board, books and additional expenses is daunting.  As summarized in’s College Primer, the annual cost of a college degree at a private college can easily exceed $40,000 and at a public college surpass $10,000.  Just getting accepted to college can be an expensive undertaking considering that many parents pay for extracurricular activities, SAT / ACT / AP test preparation courses, weekend tutoring, summer courses and college site road trips.  For the proactive parent and student, however, there are many options available to help pay for a college degree.  Parents and students are encouraged to start researching and preparing for the expense of college long before filing college applications.  Below is just a subset of options that are available.

529 College Savings Plans

For families with young children the most important step to paying for college is to start saving as soon as practical after a child is born.  One of many vehicles, with potential tax advantages, is a “529 college savings plan”.  As per the SEC Introduction to 529 Plans, “A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. 529 plans, legally known as “qualified tuition plans,” are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions and are authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.”  One example used by the author for his children is the Scholars Choice College Savings Program; there are many 529 options available, however, and recommends consulting with a financial advisor and performing careful research before making a decision to open and fund a 529 plan.

Cal Grants

The California Student Aid Commission administers the Cal Grant program which offers up to $9,700 per year for college expenses at any qualifying California college, university or career / technical school in California (including both public and private institutions).  There are a variety of Cal Grant awards that can be used for tuition, room / board and other education expenses.  Cal Grants are not loans and do not need to be paid back.  There are a variety of Cal Grant awards available with varying financial and academic critieria.  A very useful summary of financial aid options is available here.  There are a number of qualifying criteria including meeting the minimum GPA requirement, California residency, attending a qualifying California college, financial need based on college costs, family income below established ceilings and, of course, submission of the application form by the deadline.  Additional Federal options for include the Federal Pell Grant Program and the Federal Student Aid program (FAFSA).

California Scholarship Federation (CSF / CJSF) Awards

CSF and CJSF award over $90,000 annually to deserving California students. The CSF Seymour Award recognizes 50 outstanding students from over 1000 CSF Chapters and approximately 100,000 CSF student members. The CJSF Huhn Award recognizes 25 outstanding students from 600 state Chapters. Over $90,000 in total is awarded to students receiving these awards. The application deadline is typically February. More information on CSF / CJSF is available here.

College-specific Financial Aid and Scholarships

Most colleges offer varying degrees of financial aid. 70% of students attending St. Mary’s College of California, for example, receive $21,143 in financial aid (more details available here).  Stanford University has a variety of financial aid options available for qualifying students (more information available here) as do the University of California and California State University Systems.  If financial constraints are a factor in applying to college, families are encouraged to research financial aid along with entrance requirements – and to start the research process early.  Many grants and scholarships go unclaimed each year, in part because of the diversity of options available and time required to properly research and apply for aid.  Most colleges also offer financial aid and/or scholarships based on non-financial criteria (such as academic or athletic ability). is a good resource for evaluating financial aid options.

Merit scholarships are also available at many private colleges and some public colleges. Note: the application deadline can be earlier than the final deadline so make sure to confirm all application dates, including merit scholarship dates, when reviewing your college choices. Dublin High School Class of 2012 graduate Sarah Finn, now attending St. Mary’s College of California, is one example of a student was awarded merit scholarships sufficient to cover the cost of attending a private college (read more…).

More Scholarships, Scholarships, Scholarships

Dublin High School student’s science fair project wins a $1,000 YES scholarship

What if financial aid or grants aren’t enough, or you don’t qualify on a financial or other basis for a college-specific scholarship or financial aid?  What next?  There are numerous options available – some national, some local.  Below is a sampling of scholarships and awards that are available for the motivated family – and maximizing funds available for college is a family task. encourages families to start the research process early and create a scholarship award plan – long before college admission applications – to ensure no attainable financial award is left on the table.  Most of the options summarized here will not cover the full cost of a college degree, but will help minimize what may end up as a student loan (or parent gift) after all other options are exhausted. There are numerous online resources to help identify relevant scholarships – and are two examples.

A terrific example of this type of award is Dublin High School student Kristen Mengell who was a semi-finalist in the 2009-10 Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Competition, earning a $1,000 scholarship in the process.

Bay Area / Local Scholarships

Below are just some of the local options available – note the diversity of choice for motivated and organized families to offset college costs.

National Scholarships

There are even more options available nationally, although the competition for these scholarships is likely greater than local options.  Many companies provide college scholarships as part of their charitable activities – and tend to align those awards with an element tied to their business.

Scholarships for Just About Anything

Scholarship from… Duct Tape

Corporations (and non-profits) use scholarships as a marketing tool  – a win-win for both the organization (positive publicity) and the student.  A fun example is the “Stuck at Prom Duck Brand Duct Tape College Scholarship Contest” – $3,000 top prize for the best prom dress made out of duct tape.

To strange to believe?  This is just one of the many examples of scholarships awarded for very unique skills.  More unusual scholarships are listed on this article.

Community College Transfer Programs

Another path for many students, primarily to address cost concerns, is starting a 4-year college degree at a community college (such as Las Positas College in Livermore).  Community college transfer programs are arrangements between community colleges and 4-year degree colleges and universities to seamlessly transfer stduents into their junior year of college after starting their post secondary life in a 2-year community college program. recently profiled Las Positas College’s transfer program and interviewed Las Positas College’s transfer counselor.  Full article available here.

Dublin High School Annual Senior Awards Night

Every year, Dublin High School seniors are recognized for academic performance and scholarship awards. Looking at the scholarships that have been awarded to Dublin High School students is another useful resource for finding scholarships that will work for you or your students.

  • At the 2012 Dublin High School Senior Awards night over $1,800,000 in scholarships and awards were announced. Read more…
  • At the 2011 Dublin High School Senior Awards night over $1,800,000 in scholarships and awards were announced. Read more…
  • At the 2010 Dublin High School Senior Awards night over $450,000 in scholarships and awards were announced. Read more…

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