Scholarships For Students In Need
The days when Americans paid for college out of their savings and income are long gone, except among the truly wealthy. College costs have surged ahead of incomes, and lower and even middle-income students often rely on a combination of grants, scholarships, and student loans to supplement any savings they may have. Looking for money has become as much a part of American higher education as filling out applications and taking SATs! Looking for financial aid and applying for it can be time-consuming, especially when students are already attending school, doing homework, working jobs, and doing their community or extra-curricular activities. The process can seem confusing, and even overwhelming. It's still essential. The more money you can raise from grants and scholarships, the less debt you will have when you graduate, and if you don't think that's a big deal, talk to the people in their 40s who are still paying off student loans!
Here's a look at where you can start and how you can organize your search for college funds.
All government financial aid starts with the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Many private programs also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility, making this one a true necessity. FAFSA is a form detailing your and your family's financial situation. To complete this form, you will need information on your and your family's assets, income, and bank accounts. Financial aid experts say it takes a half hour to fill out the form if you have gathered the necessary information in advance.
By submitting the FAFSA, you have already applied for the Pell Grant, the Government's primary tuition assistance program. You will also be eligible to apply for other government grant programs. Our article on Education Grant Benefits and Assistance goes into these in detail, so let's go on and look at some options!
By submitting the FAFSA, you have already applied for the Pell Grant, the Government's primary tuition assistance program.
Applications are an obvious step, but one that requires some planning. You might think you won't know what schools you can apply to if you don't know how much money you can raise, but in many cases, scholarships are specific to a certain school, so you'll need to have some acceptances before you can begin your search for help in earnest. If you have your heart set on an expensive private school, go for it: many high-end colleges have extensive aid programs. Don't count on it, though. Back up your first choices by applying to more affordable schools as well. Include some close to where you live: living at home will cut your expenses considerably. Remember the Community College option. Many students on a budget opt to spend two years at a cheap, easily accessible Community College and then transfer to a more prestigious school to finish their degree.
Federal and state governments, charities, corporations, college alumni and endowment funds, and nonprofits all provide scholarships for college students. They come in all sizes, from small $500 gifts to whopping $100,000 endowments. Organizations set up scholarships to support their agendas, and usually earmark these contributions categories of the populace. For example, specific programs target military dependents, low-income families, minorities, Native Americans, orphans, young entrepreneurs, nursing students, or high academic achievers. Some scholarships are free-for-all competitions where applicants must compete in essay writing or video production contests. In all cases, you will have to compete with other applicants and jump through several hoops to qualify for these awards.
There are millions of determined students competing for money, so you will have to think strategically about your applications. Find out which scholarships are available and what opportunities are most accessible and attainable. Many scholarships work on a first come/first served basis, so apply as early as you can. Remember that scholarship hunting is a bit of a numbers game. Try for as many as you can, and avoid getting caught up in any one program to the exclusion of the others. Apportion a reasonable amount of time and effort into each award, producing the best essay or video you can in that timeframe. Try to maintain some perspective: You probably won't luck out and score that $100,000 grant by spending all your time on it. You are more likely to get several small awards than one big one. You should do your best, present yourself as well as possible, and align yourself with the awarder's goals, but don't obsess on essays and productions. You're more likely to succeed when you're feeling healthy, happy, and well balanced, rather than exhausted and overwhelmed.
When applying consider the following questions:
Are there any strings attached?
What degree, major, GPA, or course load must I carry to qualify?
Can I have a part-time job?
Will other scholarships or grants reduce the award I get?
Can I apply the award to books, housing, food, or childcare in addition to tuition?
It's always a good idea to learn all you can about a scholarship before starting the application process. Careful research will allow you to focus your efforts on the awards that you're most likely to get. Read the criteria carefully, and be honest with yourself. Every donor is looking for a certain type of recipient. If you don't think you're the type, they probably won't think so either. Move on and look for something that fits you.
Start with your high school's guidance office, if you are going straight from high school to college, and with the financial aid offices of the colleges that have accepted you. These offices are staffed by professionals, and finding financial help for people like you is their job. They have a detailed and extensive knowledge of what's available, from nationwide programs to small grants specific to a college or even a neighborhood. They are invaluable resources and consulting them should be one of your first steps.
It's also worth taking your search online. Specialized search websites allow you to search huge financial aid databases and locate appropriate programs. One site, scholarships.com, claims to have a database of 2.7 million scholarship opportunities worth over $19 billion, which gives you an idea of just how much is out there. Many of these sites will cover the same programs, but they use different search algorithms, and some may have access to unique opportunities, so it's worth trying more than one. Most of these sites ask you to fill out a profile form. Do this carefully and accurately, with as much detail as possible. Providing complete information enables the search process to select programs that fit you well.
There's a list of scholarship search sites, with links, at the end of this article.