Paying for college can be overwhelming for many students and their families — not to mention the exorbitant amount of student loan debt most students are saddled with for years after graduation. With rising costs of tuition each year, the burden of paying for college seems to get worse and worse. One way to help aid pay for college is through scholarships. Scholarships are a superior form of financial aid, as they do not require repayment. Unlike loans that need to be repaid — and have high-interest rates — scholarships help lessen the financial burden of college for many students by serving as “free money.”
While once solely based on academic merit, scholarships for college students have broadened. There may be scholarships available for a variety of criteria beyond academics, including race, ethnicity, geographic location, special interests, and much more.
How to Find College Scholarships
Take a look at these expert tips to help you find the right college scholarship(s) for you:
Start the Scholarship Hunt Early
When hunting for scholarships, aim to start as early as possible to maximize your success. Many students wait to start applying for scholarships until the end of their senior year, which causes them to become overwhelmed and often miss deadlines. Many private scholarships require serious time and dedication, so preparing in advance is always a smart move. Get a head start, before junior year, on researching a list of potential scholarships you can apply for.
While many scholarships may indicate they are only for college students of a specific class level, other scholarships may be more flexible. Apply for scholarships in order of deadline and class year priority. Keep a running Excel sheet or list with important details to keep track of your scholarship research. This will help you manage scholarship deadlines and keep track of what you’ve applied for.
Set Scholarship Application Goals
The more work and time you put into scholarship applications, the better your chances of receiving one are. As such, you should apply for as many scholarships as your schedule allows. While managing difficult academic loads and extra-curricular activities or sports, can become overwhelming for many students. To help stay on track, set realistic goals as to how many scholarships per month you aim to apply for.
Some scholarships require little time, while others may require a lot of time, resources, references, essays, etc. Consider the length of each application when setting monthly goals for scholarship applications. To help guide your college scholarships search, check out this tool to findscholarships for college students.
When choosing which college scholarships to apply for, be strategic. You want to ensure that the applications you apply for are realistically attainable. Vetting each scholarship opportunity will help you use your time wisely. Many scholarships will indicate how many awards or how much total funding they have available. This can help you determine how competitive each application is.
Don’t avoid scholarship applications that require essays. Many students shy away from applications that require essays. Although essays are time-consuming, they also provide a place to highlight your strengths and set yourself apart from other applicants. You won’t regret setting aside an hour or two of your day to write an essay when you’re rewarded with thousands of dollars for your education
Due to the cost of college tuition these days, it’s understandable that many students focus on scholarships that award thousands of dollars. Butthat makes these large awards extremely competitive. Winning a $500 scholarship won’t put you through college, but every dollar you can get from a scholarship is one you don’t have to spend or borrow.
Pursuing small scholarships also allows you to look locally for financial assistance. Many clubs and organizations put together modest scholarships for students in their communities. Applying to these scholarships is an excellent way to pad out your awards without competing with hundreds or thousands of other applicants.
With these tips in mind, applying for college scholarships does not have to be stressful. Start the scholarship search early to get ahead of other applicants. Prepare as much as possible when creating a list of scholarships to apply for. Be strategic about which scholarships to apply for while also giving each scholarship adequate time and effort.
Lastly, diversify your plan to pay for college by researching the best private college loans available.