Scholarships are like the holy grail of financial aid. Unlike loans, scholarships are financial gifts towards your education that don't carry interest and never need to be repaid. You might not consider yourself special, talented, or unique enough to qualify for one of these marvelous money savers, but a little research into what's available may reveal opportunities you hadn't previously considered.
I remember starting the scholarship application process the moment I got my early acceptance letter from NYU. Yeah, NYU, those were big bucks I needed to come up with. At first, I was seriously disheartened by the vast number of scholarships I was ineligible for- after all, I'm about as privileged and white as they come.
But those astronomical tuition numbers combined with both of my parents losing their jobs lit a fire under me. Several applications, interviews, and months later, I was awarded five different scholarships to help defray the costs of college- not only freshman year, but for the three years that followed as well.
Follow these tips, and you too are sure to find some scholarships for which you are eligible- regardless of how unremarkable you feel.
Research National Scholarships
These are generally the higher profile scholarships that you (and everyone else) have probably already heard of, like the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation or the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. While the rewards can be major, so is the competition pool, so be sure to mix up your National scholarship applications with some of the alternatives.
Research State Scholarships
Most states have scholarship programs for residents who plan to attend college in their home state. If you're going local, increase your savings potential by applying for those state scholarships.
Contact the College
Contact the financial aid office of your prospective college directly to see what scholarship programs are available through the school and if you meet any of their criteria. Note that not all scholarships are academic or athletic.
Ask Your High School Guidance/ College Counselor
The college experts at your school are there not only to help you choose and get into college, but also to serve as a resource to help you figure out how to pay for it. Ask about scholarship awards for students graduating from your high school, town, county, etc.
Check Local Organizations
Just about anyone can sponsor a college scholarship- an individual, a private company, a non-profit, a religious institution, a community organization, etc. Tap into local resources like the library to get more information on what scholarships are available to students in your area, the more specific and local, the less competition, the higher your chances of scoring some tuition money.
There are scholarship websites that aggregate a vast array of available scholarships and match you up with those you might qualify for based on your profile- in which you'll specify your background, your interests, your abilities, your chosen field of study, your financial situation, and all other pertinent information.
Try these out for starters…
Be Thorough and Stay Up to Date
Don't lose the potential for several thousand dollars worth of aid because you missed a deadline or gave little attention to the scholarship applications. Be thorough, read the rules and answer questions correctly. The effort of doing the research and providing thoughtful answers can pay off big time in reducing your total college costs.