By Molly Metzger, Student Author
College is a huge expense for students and families around the world. While there are loans and financial aid grants available to help you pay, one of the best aids is scholarships. It’s free money!!
Nothing is ever really free. Finding and being awarded scholarships can be quite tricky. Here is what you will need to know about finding, applying, and winning scholarships.
What Is a Scholarship?
Scholarships are monetary awards given by generous organizations or individuals. They are meant to help students pay for college. It is free money that you do not have to pay back. Unlike grants, which are typically need or merit based, scholarships are awarded to students based on merit or a connection to a specific cause. There are qualifications for many scholarships, but fear not, with the plethora of scholarships available, you will likely qualify for some.
How to Find Scholarships
It is important to look for scholarships early. You can do this even as a junior in high school and should continue to apply for scholarships each year throughout college. Any financial support will help tremendously in the long-run.
Begin your scholarship search within your local community. Religious organizations, businesses, social organizations, and nonprofits are all good places to look. Also search online for scholarships. Search using these websites to find awards you will qualify for and can apply to. These services are free!
- College Board
- Fastweb Scholarships
Applying for Scholarships
Once you find scholarships that you are qualified for you – you will want to apply to as many as possible as early as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute. Other students will be applying to these scholarships as well. The more scholarships you apply for the better chance you will have at winning financial aid for school!
Most scholarships require you to write an essay. Prompts for scholarship essays range from ‘changes you would like to make in the world’ to simply ‘why you deserve this scholarship’.
When writing an essay for a scholarship keep in mind:
- Scholarship providers want to know about your character and achievement
- To be authentic, there is no one quite like you
- Other students will be applying to the same scholarship, so stand out
- Be sure you understand the prompt. Read directions carefully. Answer the question being asked
- Double-check your spelling and grammar
- Ask someone to proofread your essay
- Watch the deadlines and submit your application on time, or better yet – early!
If applicable you can use your essay for several scholarships if the prompts are similar. Just be sure what you are writing caters to the scholarship that you are applying for.
Often scholarship applications require a letter of recommendation along with an essay. Choosing the right person to write your letter is so important. Teachers, coaches, community or religious leaders are all good choices if they know you well and you have made a good impression on them. When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for you
- Choose someone who is qualified and whose background is relevant to the scholarship for which you are applying
- Be polite and very appreciative!
- Make sure they understand what the scholarship is for i.e academic/ athletic achievement, community service, character
- Give them plenty of time to write the letter before the deadline
- Provide the writer of your letter with a list of your achievements and community involvement relevant to the scholarship
- Have them print the letter using their letterhead
- Provide them with an envelope for the letter
Tip: If you have not created a student resume (or education and achievements summary) you should do that now. This tool walks you through building a one-pager of your accomplishments and is the perfect bit of background information to give to everyone you ask to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.
Be Prepared to Work
With all the school work and college preparation you are already doing, filling out scholarship applications can be grueling, but being awarded free money is certainly worth the extra time you spend working on your essays and applying to scholarships. It is impossible to know who else has applied to the same scholarships as you. So to give yourself the best chance possible to win money for college; apply to as many scholarships as you can, as early as you can. Do not rely on scholarships alone to help you pay for college! Be sure to build a strong financial plan to help you afford college. Check out these free Financing College courses and Understanding and Calculating the Total Cost of College Guide.
Watch out for Scams!
There are so many scholarship opportunities out there but be careful who you give your information to. You should never have to pay to apply! There are enough free services available so do not pay a site and give them your information, it is likely a scam.
College’s offer Scholarships too!
Many colleges award merit based scholarships to their students. This means you can get money from the college you’ve been accepted to based on your academic success! This is one of the reasons it is so important to take your grades seriously. Colleges offer scholarships based on need as well when they feel a student may not be able to afford tuition.
It is certainly worth looking into at your prospective college choices. Do they offer freshman scholarships? Is there a scholarship you qualify for based on your grades or where you live? Has this college awarded students non-need scholarships?
It is true that colleges offer scholarships to students who are not in financial need. In 2016 some universities gave non-need financial aid to as many as 98% of their students! Across the US hundreds of schools are giving aid to students whose families may not qualify for need-based scholarships.
Government aid is need-based. By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, (FAFSA) you may be given money based on you and your family’s financial situation. The Federal Government offers Pell Grants to students who need help paying for college. Remember that scholarships and grants are free money and unlike loans they do not have to be paid back.
What do you need to know?
There are many opportunities for you to receive financial aid for college. Aid may come from private organizations, churches, the government, even the college you plan to attend! The trick is to find the scholarships early and apply to as many as you can.
When it comes to college, you can never get enough help financially.