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Students make finding scholarships a priority

Kaneland High School senior Kyle Pollastrini (left) talks to his twin brother, Joe, as he looks over a spreadsheet he and his family put together listing local and national college scholarships.
Kaneland High School senior Kyle Pollastrini (left) talks to his twin brother, Joe, as he looks over a spreadsheet he and his family put together listing local and national college scholarships.

Kaneland High School senior Kyle Pollastrini has narrowed his college choices to Iowa State, Illinois State and the University of Illinois.

“I like them all,” he said. “They all have the major that I want to do, so money’s going to be a huge factor.”

Pollastrini hopes to fund at least some of his college education with scholarships. In addition to applying for scholarships directly from the universities, the Elburn teen said he is seeking financial aid from local organizations.

With deadlines approaching this month and next, many students are turning their focus to scholarships, Kaneland High School guidance counselor Erin Shore said.

“Right now we’re in the busy season,” she said.

Scholarships are offered by local organizations, colleges and national organizations. While some have broad eligibility requirements, others seek specific applicants. Paramount Tall Club of Chicago, for example, restricts applicants to females who are at least 5 feet 10 inches tall and males who are at least 6 feet 2 inches tall.

In past years, St. Charles East High School counselor Jeff Bialeschki said, he would see scholarships with specific requirements go unused. That hasn’t been the case in recent years.

“We’ve got kids knocking down our doors,” Bialeschki said. “Everything we have in our building goes.”

Katharine Richards, director of fund development for Waubonsee Community College, said the need for scholarships is enormous, and it is rare for scholarships to go unused.

This spring, the college expects to award 197 Waubonsee Foundation scholarships with a total value of $138,200. It has another $30,000 to distribute in other scholarship categories, she said.

Elgin Community College awards about 500 scholarships between its foundation and the Board of Trustees, said Mary Crowe, assistant director manager of financial aid and scholarships.

“I think of it as one generation giving to the next,” Richards said.

Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said reading applications for the Illinois Sheriff’s Association scholarship gives “people like me hope” about the country’s future leaders.

“Sometimes I wish I could pick more than one [winner],” Perez said.

The Kane County Farm Bureau awards about 25 scholarships a year, executive director Steve Arnold said. He noted it’s contingent on the number of applications, the quality of the applicants and the success of the organization’s fundraising.

Arnold encourages students to apply for as many scholarships as possible.

“Write your applications toward what it is the funder’s looking for, and don’t leave any stone unturned,” he said. “Now’s the time to be looking, and now’s the time to be applying.”

Mike Rinne, an agent with Shelter Insurance in Batavia, said he hopes a “fair number” of students apply for the $2,000 scholarship the Shelter Insurance Foundation is offering to a Geneva High School graduate. This is the first year his office is participating in the scholarship program, he said.

“[It’s] a way to give back to the communities that we’re involved in,” Rinne said.

Geneva High School senior Alexis McAvoy is working on scholarship applications, but she hasn’t decided which college she’ll attend next year. Like Pollastrini, she said the price of college will be a big factor in her decision.

“I’m hoping that by doing these local scholarships, they will help me have more freedom in choosing the college I want to go to even if I don’t get as much aid from the college itself as I had hoped,” McAvoy said.

As the oldest child in her family, McAvoy said she’s figuring out the process herself and has asked her guidance counselor for help.

“It’s a lot of work, but I’m hoping to get a lot of scholarship applications done,” she said.

Pollastrini said he was initially stressed and nervous about the process, but he and his parents went over the scholarship possibilities together. He keeps track of his applications and other relevant information on a color-coded Excel spreadsheet.

Pollastrini already has received $50 from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He said he also may receive merit scholarships from the colleges to which he’s applied.

Although he thinks he will have better luck earning local scholarships, he also has applied for national ones, such as a scholarship offered by Coca-Cola. His application was denied.

“Hey,” he said, “it was worth a try.”

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