College-Questions-30%Utah Parent Question:

I have a question on scholarships. We are lucky enough that we do not qualify for financial need. My daughter has done very well in High School (she will be a senior next year and is probably top 1% academically with lots of extracurricular activities). Can you provide any advice on how to best find merit based scholarships, especially for colleges out of state, and how best to leverage a students record when negotiating price with the colleges. Thank you!”

Expert Answer (from StepUp Outreach Officer, Jacob Newman): 

Thank you so much for reaching out to us. We are happy to help you with your merit-based scholarship search on behalf of your daughter. Here are a few tips and tricks that might help you 

AP, IB, or Concurrent Enrollment Classes

While not related to scholarships, I would also suggest that your daughter be engaged in AP, IB, or Concurrent Enrollment classes. These are substantially cheaper than college tuition and could give her a leg up when it comes defraying college costs. Based on your description, I assume she is most likely involved, but you check with her high school counselor to make sure that the classes she is taking will help her achieve her educational goals.

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Many scholarships on an institutional level, while not based on financial need, will still require your daughter to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). I would suggest that you attend one of StepUp Utah’s sponsored FAFSA Completion Events that we hold in the fall at many high schools and community centers throughout the state to be sure you can get expert help with the FAFSA. Students who attend these events are also eligible to win a scholarship just for filling out their FAFSA! (One of the easiest scholarship applications ever!) Also, keep in mind that while she might not qualify for federal financial aid like Pell Grants or Work-Study, she could possibly (depending on the institution) qualify for institutional aid and institutions frequently use information from the FAFSA to determine any institutional aid that is given. And, in the end, it’s important to remember that student loans can be a very viable option if students know what they are getting into. It’s always safe to file the FAFSA to have that option to take student loans. Remember to borrow wisely and to always make sure she understands what she is getting into with student loans.

Employer Tuition Benefits

For merit-based scholarships, I would look close to home for scholarships. Start with your employer and ask if they offer any tuition benefits for dependents. When I was in high school, I applied for a scholarship offered through my credit union. It’s best to be able to compete locally rather than nationally. There are a great deal of resources and individuals who want to offer scholarships on the local level. Sometimes school districts/ education foundations also offer scholarships. The applicant pool for these scholarships tends to be smaller than you would expect! Look in your area with non-profits, businesses, and financial institutions to see what they can offer.

Build a Scholarship Resume

I would work with your daughter to craft a scholarship resume. StepUp Utah has created some excellent resources to help students create a strong resume to make them a more viable candidate. Think of some of the unique talents that your daughter has or the many extracurricular she is involved in. She can use the summer to practice writing essays and personal statements. StepUp Utah has two really great, short videos about scholarships. Follow the advice in these videos to see how she can apply to as many scholarships as possible. 

Scholarship Search

There are lots of scholarship search engines out there, but the one that we recommend you use is UtahFutures StepUp Scholarships. Your daughter probably has a UtahFutures account. We are currently in the process of working to aggregate scholarship information from local organizations, so be on the lookout for more local scholarship in that database soon.

In-State Tuition Vs. Out-of-State

Although there are some advantages of going out of state, we highly recommend that college-bound students in Utah consider the advantages of staying in-state for an undergraduate degree. Tuition costs (as well as cost of living) are substantially lower than out-of-state costs, and your daughter could possibly qualify for the Regents’ Scholarship to use at our in-state Utah System of Higher Education institutions, as well as BYU, LDS BC, and Westminster College. Additionally, our institutions here in Utah offer many incredible programs that can be as competitive as out-of-state institutions. Imagine the cost savings that she can achieve if she decides to go on to graduate school as well! 

My outreach colleague, Katie Wornek, and I frequently post about scholarship opportunities locally and nationally on our social media accounts. You can follow us on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. My handle is @stepupjacob and Katie’s is @stepupkatie. StepUp Utah’s main account also posts a lot of great information for students to know about paying for and preparing for college. Follow us @stepuputah! 

I hope that answers your question and gives you some guidance. Feel free to check out our blog at for fresh new content about scholarships, financial aid, and college readiness. We are here to help, so feel free to reach out if you have any other questions! Thank you!