In It to Win It – How to score scholarship gold for college
Written by: Sarah Miller for Student Choice
We talk often about the importance of free or cheap money for college. So you may be asking, “Alright, where do I find this money? And how do I get it?” With all of the college deadlines and applications piling up, it may feel like you’re running a marathon with no end in sight. But by pacing yourself you can make it to the finish line – hopefully with some extra dough for your efforts.
What do you mean by FREE MONEY?
Free money means money you don’t have to repay, and it comes in the form of scholarships and grants. While there may be stipulations like maintaining a certain GPA or credit requirements, the funds generally will not have to be repaid when you leave college.
Where do I look for this free money?
The FAFSA is always crucial for finding financial aid, which includes scholarships or grants awarded by your college or the government. But there are so many scholarships available from other sources that the better question may be, “Where CAN’T I find scholarships?”
How do I get started?
There are free, reputable search engines available online to point you in the direction of scholarships you may be eligible for. (Check out this article to see how U.S. News compares five of the most popular.
Your high school counselors’ office should also have a list of scholarships available for students in your area. Listen for announcements, check bulletin boards, or stop by the office to see what information they can give you.
Finally, don’t be afraid to do a little of your own leg work. Plenty of organizations offer scholarship money that may not be publicized well. Here are a few sources you can ask about scholarship opportunities:
- Clubs/activities (band, honor societies, foreign language clubs, Eagle Scouts)
- Sports (In addition to scholarships for college athletes, your high school’s booster or parent organizations may offer scholarship funds.)
- Employers (that includes your and your parents’ employers)
- Community organizations/groups (check with your church and civic organizations like your local F.O.E., I.O.O.F or V.F.W.)
- Specific college departments or groups (Certain majors may have their own funds outside of the college’s general scholarships. You may also be eligible for money for students with special circumstances; such as if you have a disability, are an international student, or a veteran.)
Who can help me with applications and recommendations?
Your high school counselor can be a great resource – they can provide grades or transcripts and verify other academic information. Scholarship committees may also request that you submit a personal essay and/or letters of recommendation. For recommendations, consider people who know you well and who can provide information about your skills and character. A teacher, your employer, church leaders, supervisor from a volunteer organization – all of these individuals can tell a scholarship committee why you are the best candidate for their money!
Be sure to give your references a deadline that is several days to a week BEFORE the application is due so you don’t find yourself scrambling for paperwork at the last minute! Learn more about how to get good references. You can also read our tips on writing a great scholarship essay.
When should I get started?
NOW! Spring is scholarship season, so whether you’re a high school junior or senior, this is the ideal time to look for scholarship money.
One more tip: remember, any legitimate scholarship should not charge an application fee! Scholarships provide FREE money for college, and you should NOT have to give money to get it!
Many local credit unions also offer scholarships and college planning services. Use our CU Select Tool to find a credit union near you!