Whether you’ve received all your university acceptance letters or are just starting the application process, you’re probably already thinking about how to pay for college. Getting a college degree is expensive – you have to pay for tuition, books, housing, transportation, and food at a minimum. Most people don’t have enough available cash to pay for college outright, so they need to take on debt or find additional funding to make up the difference.
If you plan to attend an elite university or continue your education beyond your undergraduate degree, the total cost can run into six figures. Every bit of financial assistance can make a difference in your overall budget. Scholarships can significantly lower college costs and reduce your reliance on parental funding, student loans, and personal savings.
Ask Your School
Schools are some of the best places to start looking for scholarships and financial assistance programs. If you are still in high school, begin by meeting with your guidance counselor. They should have a lot of information on available opportunities and can help you figure out which ones would be best to apply for based on your interests and grades.
You can also talk to your college about scholarships. The financial aid office can help prospective and current students learn about different forms of monetary assistance, including scholarships. Many colleges and universities have unique scholarship opportunities provided by donors. The best way to find out about these programs is to talk directly to the experts in the financial aid office.
The internet is an excellent source of information on scholarships. Look for websites that provide both information and application links for available scholarships – you can save a lot of time over having to visit a new website for each application.
There are several other ways you can use the internet to research scholarship opportunities:
● Find information on career choices, vocational training, and financial aid options at the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website.
● Search library databases for scholarship information.
● Get information on work-study jobs or online degree programs for nontraditional students.
The internet can be a limitless source of helpful information, but there are plenty of fraudulent sites as well. Steer clear of any scholarship or financial aid applications that ask you to pay money.
Research Local Options
While the National Merit Scholarship and other similar awards accept applications from students all over the U.S., local scholarships often have far fewer applicants. Consider looking for scholarship opportunities from these sources:
● Religious organizations
● Nonprofit agencies
● Community groups
● City governments
Many businesses offer scholarships or debt forgiveness for employees or employees’ children, so don’t forget to ask.
Think Beyond Academics
Many scholarship opportunities are based on academic merit, but there are other options as well. If you aren’t a top-of-the-class student with perfect standardized test scores, you can still qualify for scholarships that consider other criteria:
● Athletic performance
● Musical ability
● Unconventional hobbies/skills
● Diversity/underrepresented communities
● Financial hardship
Football and math aren’t the only skills that can land scholarships. You can find opportunities for outstanding performance in a variety of areas, including community service, esports, and fine arts.
Don’t Forget About Grants
When you are researching and applying for scholarships, you may want to consider grants as well. Both scholarships and grants provide “gift aid,” which means you usually don’t have to pay the money back (unlike a student loan). However, there is one key difference: Scholarships are merit-based, whereas grants are generally need-based.
The Pell Grant is perhaps the most well-known program for low-income students. There are also federal grants for students who intend to become teachers in high-need fields and low-income areas. Along with these federal grants, there are many state-level grants. You may even live in a community that has local grants for students who meet specific requirements.
Most grants are based on financial conditions, and some scholarships are also need-based. The first step is to fill out your Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA). Like most scholarships, grant programs generally require you to meet specific academic benchmarks during college to continue receiving funds.
Get the Money You Need for College
Scholarships, grants, and other kinds of financial aid can drastically reduce the fiscal burden of college. Even if you don’t qualify for a full-ride scholarship, there are countless smaller awards. Every little bit helps, so it’s a good idea to apply for multiple opportunities. School counselors, libraries, and websites are great places to learn about available grants and scholarships.
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn’t crafting content, she’s usually reading, baking, or playing video games.