College isn’t cheap, meaning the vast majority (if not all) scholarships have a competitive edge to them. But scholarships for college cover more than just tuition, as they can be used for books, computers, housing, transportation costs, living expenses, studying abroad, and more. Competing for those scholarships could make a difference in what school a student attends, if they live on or off campus, and even being able to graduate debt-free. 

And there is no limit to the amount of scholarship money you can earn. So what is the secret to finding these scholarships to apply to? Any Google search will bring up tons of different scholarships, but the secret is in how you go about it. Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your scholarship search.

Scholarships for College: Start Early

Start early. Look everywhere. Apply for everything. 

Many people wait until they’ve been accepted to a college and actually need the money before they start looking for aid and scholarships. This mentality will not get the boat built in time! Researching scholarships for college and organizing applications takes time, so the earlier you start in your high school career, the better. Spend some time collecting opportunities and noting deadlines. You can even start applying for scholarships if there isn’t a specified age limit (especially for local scholarships). 

FAFSA Is Important for Scholarships, Too

Everyone should file for a FAFSA, even if you know you won’t get any government aid. FAFSA is used as a benchmark by scholarship programs to award aid, meaning if you don’t file one, that’s money you won’t be getting. Be sure to fill it out every year, too, as situations change and standards fluctuate. 

Don’t Forget to Look Local 

There are lots of small businesses, school boards, and community organizations that award scholarships to local students. It might not seem like a big amount, but that money adds up, and it’s free

Don’t shy away from scholarships that are looking for a specific demographic. At the end of the day, the scholarship goes to the student that applies. If a student is the only one that fills out the application for the “Curly, Red-Haired Kid” scholarship, then that’s the student that’s going to win it, whether they have curly red hair or not! 

If you don’t apply, the answer is already no. So apply anyway. 

Millions of dollars go unallocated each year because students don’t apply to these smaller scholarships. And most of the applications ask for the same things, such as an essay about your goals, your intended major, etc. You can reuse the same material over and over again and apply for as many scholarships as possible. 

Stay Organized and Track Everything

Organization is FUNDAMENTAL for getting as much scholarship money as you can. It’s easy to miss a deadline or overlook a required application if you aren’t organized and keeping track. Remember, this is money, so treat it like a job. Be detailed and keep track of your records. 

The Search Doesn’t Stop in College

Once you’re actually in college, even more awards open up to you. Students can ask for aid directly through their school, apply to scholarships awarded by different academic departments, and receive stipends for work-placements on campus. There are even student and professional organizations and Greek life chapters that award scholarships to current students. The options are endless! 

Don’t stop looking for scholarships until you graduate debt-free. 

Above All, Let the Student Lead

A note to parents: don’t be tempted to do all of this for your child. Students who are invested in the scholarship hunt take their college experience more seriously. It’s proven that these students get better grades and have a higher graduation rate. 

And while controversial, we have another suggestion for you based on experience: make your student take out a subsidized student loan, even if you can pay for it. We know, the goal is to be debt-free. BUT students that have student loans like this are more likely to apply themselves while in college and show up for class – more so than students who know that mom and dad are footing the bill no matter what. 

You can still make sure your child is starting their working life debt-free by gifting them a symbolic check to pay off their loan at their graduation dinner. Students who go through this experience are much more appreciative of their education than their peers that do not.

Feeling Overwhelmed by This College Thing?

Sometimes just knowing where to start can be a daunting hurdle along the college journey. That’s where a college and career advisor can help guide you along the way. Check out our college admissions services to see if a college and career advisor can help you get started today.

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The Complete High School Timeline for Getting into College

Applying to college is a marathon, not a sprint. And it starts freshman year of high school. This book outlines what you should be doing each year of high school to be ready competitive for applying to college.

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