The best way to pay for college is with FREE money (money you don’t have to pay back once you graduate). This comes in the form of scholarships and grants. Grants are usually awarded through your college when you file the FAFSA. There are many sources of scholarship money, and amounts can range from a few hundred dollars to the majority of your tuition. Here’s what you need to know about finding scholarships to pay for college.
Types of Scholarships
First, you need to understand the types of scholarships available. There are merit-based scholarships, which are awarded based on your academic, athletic, artistic, or other achievements. Need-based scholarships are given out based on your family’s income and need for financial assistance. Finally, there are scholarships that are awarded to certain groups of people; you may need to be a member of a group (like your credit union), of a certain ethnic or religious background, or be from a military family, for example.
Where to Find Scholarships
Where can you find scholarships? Pretty much anywhere! You just have to do some legwork to find the ones available to you. The best time to search and start applying is during your junior year of high school, but there are still opportunities if you’ve waited until the last minute!
- Your high school guidance office. These offices often post or share scholarship opportunities for students. You should also ask your counselor directly about scholarships that may be available, or where to look in your community. High schools may also offer their own scholarships, funded by alumni or other supporters.
- Speaking of your community – community organizations are a great source of scholarship money! Clubs that you or your parents belong to, your or your parents’ employer, your credit union – contact any local organization you can think of and ask if they have scholarships available.
- The college you’ll attend. Typically these are included in your financial aid package for the school, but you may find separate scholarships available through academic programs. Contact the department for your major to see if there might be any additional opportunities.
Tip: Many scholarship applications require a short essay. Draft one version that can be adjusted slightly for each application so you don’t have to start from scratch each time!
Beware of Scams
Unfortunately there are scammers who try to take advantage of students looking for money for college. First and foremost, you should never have to pay someone to apply for or receive help searching for financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education offers more tips for avoiding scams and identity theft.
How to Use Scholarship Money
Some scholarship money may be sent directly to your financial aid office to be applied to your tuition, room and board. Other scholarships (especially small community-based scholarships) may be sent directly to you via check. You will need to contact your financial aid office to have those funds applied to your tuition bill, or if the rules of the scholarship allow, you may be able to use the money yourself to pay for things like books or other necessary items.
Once you’ve exhausted grant and scholarship money, you should utilize federal student loans, and finally, use private student loans to fill remaining funding gaps.