While it's well-established that higher education is a worthy investment in yourself and your future, the upfront cost can feel high. Scholarships, grants and work-study programs can help defray this cost and reduce the amount you will owe in loans.
If you’re just starting out on your college journey, here are 10 tips to help you find scholarships, grants and work-study programs that may meet your needs.
1. Determine What You Need
There are four online calculators that can help you determine how much scholarship money you need. At the Big Future website, you will find the following:
Once you have used these calculators, you will have a better understanding of your financial situation and the amount of financial aid required.
2. Federal Aid: Complete Your FAFSA
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), offered through the U.S. Department of Education, is a one-stop shop for discovering and applying for federal scholarships and other kinds of aid. FAFSA is a portal to more than $150 billion in federal student aid each year. Types of aid available through FAFSA include grants, loans and work-study programs.
3. Non-Federal Aid: Complete a CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Application
The College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form isn’t a scholarship application. Instead, it’s the application used by more than 400 higher-ed institutions to award non-government financial aid. It costs $25 to send the form to one school and $16 for each additional school.
The registration form is found here. If you have taken the SAT, you’ll want to use the same login name and password that you used then.
4. Go Online
Here are five well-known sites to search for scholarships:
5. Find What Makes You Unique
Think about what makes you different. Are you an activist or artist? Are you going to be part of a minority group in your field of study or career path? Focusing on scholarships related to your unique characteristics, interests and abilities can help narrow your search. Specific scholarship opportunities may be available for underrepresented groups, such as female students in STEM-related degree programs.
6. Use Your Skills
Are you particularly adept at writing? How about making videos? Essay and video contests are featured in many scholarship opportunities, so honing one or both of these skills may give you a leg up in your scholarship search.
7. Reach Out to Your College Staff
Higher-ed institutions typically have a team of people working to help prospective students find sources of financial aid. They are very familiar with the grants and work-study programs available to students, as well as smaller, institution-only scholarships that might be available. It is very helpful to cultivate relationships with these professionals.
8. Don’t Forget About Local Private Scholarships
A private scholarship may only bring in a few hundred dollars, but that’s money that can help cover the cost of books and other academic materials. Looking for these scholarships will require groundwork, but if you’ve made contact with your college’s financial aid counselor or enrollment services representative (as described above), you can ask him or her about opportunities. You can also see if businesses or community groups in your area offer scholarships. If you’re still in high school, your guidance counselor should be very familiar with what is offered in your region.
9. Be Organized and Apply Early
Applying for scholarships, grants and work-study programs is no time to lose sight of deadlines. If you submit an application late, you will most likely be turned down for any kind of aid. Even late applications can penalize you — there is only a set amount of money to distribute at each institution, so there might not be much left in the purse if you apply just before deadline. You should put the same care in detail into applying for aid as you did when applying for school.
10. Continue to Seek OpportunitiesScholarship opportunities may be available throughout your academic journey, so keep an eye out for potential scholarships from freshman year to grad school.
Take the Next Steps
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