Funding the costs of college tuition is a mystery to many: We know that a university diploma correlates to positive health outcomes and higher levels of career satisfaction and overall happiness, as well as a higher income—more than two million dollars in additional revenue over a lifetime. The benefits of the investment in tuition costs are real and proven, but how does one save for what can be the single largest expense in a family, second only to the purchase of a home? How to plan and invest? A simple Google search generates too many results to be of any help, and every parent and educator, it seems, has a different story to tell, based on their own experiences. So we sat down with an expert—Scott Linzey, father, educator, and longtime university administrator at SCAD, where he serves as vice president for student financial services.

Q: When should parents and students begin applying for scholarships?

SL: The scholarship process at every university differs. Some will require applying for admission by a certain date others may require completion of a separate scholarship application or the submission of an essay, artistic portfolio, and/or audition. If you’re a fan of spreadsheets, I highly recommend making one! Once you know the timelines and scholarship requirements of your top-choice schools, families can breathe a lot easier. Make lists, make folders. Get organized. As a general rule, scholarship application timing often mirrors the admission application process, so 8-16 months prior to initial enrollment is a good estimated time frame. Start your research two years before enrollment is set to begin (i.e., the beginning of the junior year of high school), and you should be fine.

Q: What about awards from foundations and organizations outside a university?

SL: I recommend parents and students get familiar with any number of web-based aggregator sites that serve as scholarship clearinghouses for private (third-party) awards, including: www.scholarships360.org, www.scholarships.com, and www.fastweb.com, to name a few. Dozens more exist. Find a few you like or search through them all! Students should understand the terms and conditions of each scholarship so they know if the award is for a single year, will automatically recur in subsequent years, requires a certain level of enrollment (full-time vs. part-time), calls for performing at a particular level, obligates one to service, etc. Again, the name of the game is organization. Do your research and keep orderly notes and lists.

Q: What’s the SCAD scholarship awarding process, in a nutshell?

SL: At SCAD, we make it straightforward and simple! All students accepted for admission are automatically considered for Academic Honors scholarships, and recipients are notified immediately of admission acceptance. Applicants can also submit an artistic portfolio, audition, resume, writing sample, and/or riding exhibition in order to be considered for Achievement Honors Scholarships.

Q: Of the many ways to position yourself for a good scholarship award (grades, service, etc.), which would you say is most effective?

SL: This varies quite a lot. A university near Washington, D.C., may care more about demonstrated interest in public service, while a parochial college may give preference to missionary work, for example. Academic merit scholarships (at SCAD, called the Academic Honors Scholarship) usually place heavy emphasis on cumulative weighted GPA and standardized test scores. Because a weighted GPA is important, challenging oneself with AP, Honors, and GT (“Gifted  and Talented”) classes is baked into this metric.

Before COVID, but much more so in the past six months, many schools had already begun moving to test-optional admission, meaning the applicant can decide whether or not to submit an ACT or SAT score as part of their application materials. Again, it is recommended that applicants understand and meet minimum scholarship criteria as some test-optional schools may give preference to test submitters in their scholarship review process. The ACT and SAT still matter.

Q: How can students position themselves for the best scholarships at SCAD?

SL: Students and families often make the mistake that SCAD only wants students with a strong creative portfolio—i.e., what you’d create in studio and AP art classes during high school, with illustrations, paintings, that sort of thing. And we absolutely want those students! But SCAD is a preeminent university for invention and entrepreneurialism, too. We care most about enrolling curious students who want to make the world more beautiful, more functional, more equitable. Some of our most successful alumni never took an art class in high school. Show me a passionate problem-solver and SCAD will account for his technique.

With that said, of the two predominant scholarships at SCAD, the Academic Honors Scholarship places greater importance on cumulative weighted GPA and standardized test scores, and the Achievement Honors Scholarship emphasizes the demonstration of artistic achievement and/or co-curricular success.

Q: What college savings funds do you recommend?

SL: There are really only two tax-advantaged educational investment options for families: ESAs (also known as Educational IRAs) and 529s. My personal preference is an ESA, because it allows the investor to control how the funds are invested with greater flexibility and discretion than the 529. However, both are very strong options. Check out Chris Hogan’s thoughtful article on the ESA vs. the 529.

Q: What about U.S. Savings Bonds?

SL: There was a time, a few decades or maybe a generation ago, when U.S. Savings Bonds were a sound investment—because their guaranteed rate of return was comparable to other investment strategies and there was no risk. In the last 20 years, though, the stock market and related investment vehicles have delivered far stronger returns. Mutual funds in particular provide diversified opportunities that protect the investor from catastrophic losses and hold high promise for reliable gains. ESAs (mentioned above) permit investors to channel their funds toward mutual funds.

Q: What do you recommend students do to help save for college?

SL: This varies by family, but my strong preference is for a student to have some skin in the game. Parents make significant sacrifices to send their children to college, particularly those who are enrolled at private institutions or out-of-state universities. Students benefit and are more appreciative of their opportunities when they do some of the lifting. Maybe this means saving up in the summer for books or working part-time during the school year to earn spending money for clothes, food, and fun. Students spend more wisely when they’ve done some of the earning!

I know students who work full-time while enrolled and contribute significantly toward tuition expenses and others who work extensive hours over the summer and during breaks so they can help pay for some of their tuition—even a fraction. Yet I know equally as many who contribute little or nothing from their personal finances and expect mom and dad to provide. Families should start talking through options in high school so that a student knows what’s coming. Most students who hold down even part-time employment in college feel a great sense of pride in that—during school and for years after.

Q: What causes the most anxiety when planning for the costs of an education, in your experience?

SL: The unknown is what makes us worry. Consider a family whose student attended public schools and who live in a state with a lottery-funded university system scholarship, like the HOPE in Georgia or Bright Futures in Florida. For them, the idea of paying $30,000 or $40,000 per year for an education is daunting, especially when a public university may cost less than $10,000.

Compare that to parents whose children have attended private school throughout and who themselves attended a private college or university. For them, paying upwards of $250,000 for a bachelor’s degree is not a fearful thing to behold—because they’ve experienced for themselves the benefits of a private education through superior teaching and learning, which engenders a more stable, rewarding career and a broad and deep network of equally successful professionals.

Similarly, one’s perception of an art and design education will sway their view of SCAD’s tuition cost. Those who understand the position and influence design has in industry and the impact it has on the global economy will place greater value on a SCAD degree, versus the individual who views art as a hobby and believes all but the most accomplished and/or lucky professional artists constantly struggle to make ends meet. There’s a book coming out later this fall called Seven Lessons for Dreamers and Makers—a compilation of wisdom and learning from across SCAD. I highly recommend it! There are a couple of chapters that address this very subject, how you can leverage your specific talents for a creative career, whether you’re into math or engineering or stories or something else. Every company in the world wants and needs creative, inventive, entrepreneurial talent. The careers are there. SCAD makes it possible.

For more information on SCAD and SCAD scholarships, go to https://www.scad.edu/admission/tuition-and-fees.