Taking the mystery out of searching for college scholarships

By Matthew Garcia

The years leading to Mark Sutton’s senior year in high school at Corona Del Sol, Mark and his dad Tom had discussed future college possibilities--a little.

“Like many parents we thought about college, but never did anything,” Tom Sutton said.

When Mark finally reached his senior year, Tom studied university costs and did something that many unprepared parents do--he panicked.

While Mark had a good academic standing, he wasn’t necessarily at the top of his graduating class. The Suttons didn’t know what kinds of scholarship options were available to soften the financial blow from college tuition.

“I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to start,” Tom said.

As the realities of costs sunk in, he decided the only way to approach the task was as a team.

“I made a partnership with Mark. He would focus on grades and I would hit the Internet looking for scholarships.”

The deal was that Tom would find the scholarship applications and Mark would complete them.

Tom, who spent hundreds of hours hunting various websites and databases, was surprised to find dozens and dozens of scholarship opportunities.

“There is literary billions of dollars of free money out there,” Tom said.

Sutton started his search in October, and by the time Mark was headed to Tucson for his freshman year at the University of Arizona, he had been awarded three scholarships that covered almost half of his first year of school.


“When I say there are billions of dollars I mean it,” Sutton said.

Sutton found that there a few different types of scholarships offering money, and it’s important for students and parents to become familiar with them.

There are financial need-based scholarships--such as federal grant money. There are university scholarships and private merit-based scholarships.

“Since my wife (and I) both worked, the private scholarships were our best option,” Tom said.

The private scholarships cover many different needs, from scholarships for students with diabetes to scholarships for tall students.

“There is a scholarship for almost everything,” Tom said.

Scotch, the makers of Duct Tape, even offer a scholarship for the student who designs the best dress out of their product, Tom said.

While he said most scholarships are for high school seniors, once a student reaches the university level, the scholarship search should start all over again.

There are a ton of scholarships awarded to college students and to students interested in graduate school.

Spreading the knowledge

Mark found that the information he gathered from his scholarship endeavors was not widely known to parents facing their children’s college years.

Mark compiled his notes and started writing them down. Before he knew it, he had dozens of pages written in what would become his 172-page book, College Scholarships Search Guide.

“I guarantee that most people are clueless where to start.”

As an outcome of the work Tom and Mark undertook, Tom has started his own scholarship consultation business to inform families on steps that can ensure the best odds of receiving scholarship money.

On Saturday, Oct. 30, in conjunction with the Corona del Sol PTO, Sutton will host a forum on scholarship finding strategies.

PTO planner Diana Keller said the workshop, which will cost $10, is not just for the overachievers.

“(The workshop) is for the average student,” Keller said. Keller strongly encourages freshmen and sophomores to attend the workshop in order to know what to aim toward early.

The workshop will guide parents and their children through the steps toward finding scholarships, as well as organizational tools to understanding what the scholarships mean.

All the proceeds from the workshop will be put toward a senior scholarship.

Start young

Tom Sutton stresses that an early start is the most effective way to plan for your child’s education.

“The ideal time to begin planning is when your child is born, but of course that’s not realistic for everybody,” he said.

Tom says that when he found out the right path, he immediately put his daughter on the program.

“She been on my program for years,” he said, “It’s going to be interesting to see how it works for her when she is a senior.”

Tom has encouraged his daughter to participate in as many activities as possible, he says, because scholarship boards look highly toward students who volunteer and who are involved in extracurricular activities.

The educational workshop is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Corona del Sol Auditorium. Information (480) 215-0419.

Tom Sutton can be reached at tsutton0515@cox.net or www.collegescholarshipssearch.com.