The class of 2011 is the most indebted class to date with an average of $22,900 in student loan debt upon graduation. Congratulations class of 2011, you’ll be paying that off for quite some time! While no one can escape the fact that college is expensive, there are certainly things you can do to mitigate the costs. One of the best things you can do right off the bat is to secure college student scholarship money. Scholarships differ from loans in that they don’t have to be paid back upon graduation. Who doesn’t love free money? The answer is no one. That’s why, it takes hard work and dedication to secure scholarship money.
There certainly isn’t a lack of quantity of scholarships available, you just have to know where to look and be sure that you’re a good fit so you aren’t wasting your time. Most high schools award scholarships prior to attending college. Colleges award scholarships as well, as do private organizations. College student scholarships can be merit based, need based, interest based or cultural based – the list really is endless so it’s important to stay abreast of the different types, deadlines, amounts awarded, and where to locate them.
There are a few different places you can begin to look for scholarships. First, every college will have a catalog of scholarships available. Most commonly, this list can be found on your school’s website. You can also visit the Financial Aid Office for guidance on how to begin your search.
Also, believe it or not, in the age of the Internet, people still write books! Can you believe it? Two books to check out are The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2011: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes by Gen and Kelly Tanabe and How To Go To College Almost For Free by Ben Kaplan. These two will guide you to college student scholarships that you’re qualified for and also provide tips for writing winning essays and how to avoid scams because unfortunately, they’re out there, and you don’t have time to waste!
Last, the Internet is your friend as long as you know the right places to look. For those of you who need a brush up on your reading comprehension skills, please see the last sentence in the previous paragraph. A great place to search for scholarships is Fastweb.com. The site claims to have 1.5 million worth of $3.4 billion scholarship dollars available. Chances are, you’ll qualify for at least a few! They also provide countless articles with helpful tips for earning scholarship money. So take a break from Facebook for an hour and see what’s out there. Your stomach will thank you after graduation when you can go out to dinner instead of eating ramen every night because you’re drowning in student loan debt.
To get started, here is a breakdown of the different categories of scholarships available to you. You can start to hone in on which ones you think you’d be the best fit for.
Academic Awards: These merit-based awards are often tied into your initial financial aid package offered by the college based on your GPA listed in your college application. To inquire about such awards, you can visit your school’s financial aid office or website.
Athletic Awards: Usually, you don’t apply for these. Scouts from colleges across the country seek out the best student athletes for athletic scholarships.
Department Awards: Specific departments such as Business or Biology may have scholarships available to attract, retain and award students studying in a specific field. Contact the department of your intended major to see what’s available.
Private Organization Awards: There are literally thousands of private organizations that offer scholarships that range from amounts under $100 to $20,000 plus. Fastweb is a good source for locating Private Organization Scholarship Awards.
Corporate Awards: Fortunately for you, these scholarships often go un-awarded due to lack of applicants. You can search for corporate scholarships by checking with your parents’ employers for possible programs and researching businesses in your region. You may have a greater chance of winning these kinds of scholarships because of the narrow applicant pool.
Religious Affiliated Awards: If you and your family are associated with a specific religious group, this is often a great place to check for scholarships. Religious groups sometimes award scholarship money to help their members afford the ever-increasing cost of college.
Union Affiliated Awards: To search for union sponsored scholarships, visit the AFL-CIO website.
High School/School District Awards: Visit your guidance counselor to get information on scholarships your school or district may be awarding. Your counselor can help provide direction to scholarships you might be a good fit for.
Community/Chamber of Commerce Awards: Besides offering their own scholarships, your local Chamber of Commerce can also direct you to businesses in your area that may be looking to award scholarships.
Military Awards: The Air Force ROTC program can pay up to full college tuition and often a stipend for books is included. Military scholarships are usually awarded in return for a tour of duty. You can visit www.students.gov as a jumping off point to search military scholarships including special veteran scholarships.
State and Federal Sources of Financial Aid Funds: The federal government provides on the upwards of $50 billion in grant aid to college students annually. Aid can come from Federal Pell Grants, Subsidized Stafford Loans, Federal Work Study and Perkins Loans among others. A great source of information on federal grant programs is www.fafsa.ed.gov.
The above is just a snapshot of the different categories of scholarships that are available. As mentioned before, FastWeb is one of the best sources of scholarships online, and chances are has a listing for just about any type of college student scholarship available. To access their complete database of college student scholarships, click here now. But before you get ready to apply, here are some helpful tips to making sure your time isn’t wasted and you have the best possible shot of locking in a scholarship:
- Only apply if you are TRULY a good fit. Think about it, the committee awarding the scholarship is likely getting an overwhelming amount of scholarships applications. Think of it like a job application. You wouldn’t apply for a job as a neurosurgeon if you were an architect. Same applies to scholarships. Make sure you have a shot. After all, your time is money.
- Fill out the application entirely. Do not leave blanks. It looks sloppy and may discount your application. If something doesn’t apply to you, say that.
- Read and follow directions. I repeat, read and follow directions.
- If printing, make it neat. Your application needs to be legible to be considered!
- Make your essay as personal as possible. The committee wants to know you! They read generic statements all the time. Stand out.
- Accidents happen. Make photocopies of all your applications in case they get lost in the mail. The extra 10 minutes it takes to make a copy is nothing compared to the hour(s) it took you to get the application perfect in the first place.
- Stay organized. Make a spreadsheet if you have to of all the important deadlines and addresses to send your applications. You can also keep track of status this way and sort by deadline so you can best prioritize.
- Proof read. And while you’re at it, let a trusted friend or family member read as well. They may be able to provide an outside opinion that may improve your chances.
- Proof read. Hey, I thought that was #8? Yes, proof read for content, but also proof read for spelling and grammar as well. One slip up could cost you.
- Avoid scams. Don’t apply for any scholarships that ask you for money to apply.
There you have it, now it’s up to you to make it happen. Good luck in your quest for scholarship money. Let us know how you do! Remember, you can ALWAYS save on the cost of your college textbooks by renting textbooks online.