7 Methods for Finding Scholarships for College Students

Average college tuition's for both public and private schools have far outstripped the cost of living. Unless your family is wealthy enough to pay for college out of pocket, you’ll need to find ways to reduce your costs and minimize the amount of debt you’ll have when you graduate.

One question we hear a lot is this:

Where can I go to find scholarships for college students?

Scholarships are an ideal way to pay for college because they are essentially free money. They can be awarded based on either merit or financial need and, best of all, they do not need to be repaid when you graduate.

With that in mind, here are seven methods for finding (and getting) scholarships.

#1: Talk to Your Guidance Counselor

If you’re a high school senior applying to colleges, your first stop should be your school guidance counselor. They can help you learn about local scholarships that you may qualify for.

They will also have access to resources that aren’t available to students. These may include information about both merit and need-based scholarships from local civic organizations, employers, and even high school groups.

#2: Get the Highest Test Scores You Can

Many colleges offer need-based scholarships based strictly on your SAT scores. Yet, it’s not uncommon for students to take the SAT only once. Signing up for an SAT prep course and retaking the text can help you maximize your scores.

If your scores are very high, you may even qualify for a “full ride” scholarship for the school of your choice. However, even improving your scores slightly can make a difference in the merit-based scholarships you are awarded.

#3: Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the form you will need to fill out to get financial aid from the college you attend. Many state schools also use the FAFSA to determine need. The exceptions are New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, where you’ll need to complete a separate state-issued application.

The FAFSA application will help your school identify scholarships and grants you qualify for. When you get your acceptance letter, they’ll provide details about your financial aid and you can accept the money available to you through them.

#4: Search Online

The United States Department of Labor has a free online Scholarship Finder tool that you can use to find scholarships to apply for. You can filter the results to narrow your search.

For example, you may find scholarships that are open only to women, or only to people in certain minority groups. There’s also an option to filter by state, so you can find local scholarships that you may qualify for – and which wouldn’t be automatically awarded via the FAFSA.

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#5: Talk to Your Department Head

If you’re already in college, remember that you can apply for scholarships every year. Once you’ve declared a major, you may be eligible for scholarships that are open only to students in your area of study. Talking to your department head can help you learn about them.

These scholarships are ones you’ll need to apply for separately from the FAFSA. You should be prepared to do some research, fulfill all criteria for the scholarship, and apply in a timely manner.

#6: Talk to Professional Associations

If you have already chosen a major and a potential profession, you may be able to qualify for a scholarship that’s open only to people pursuing a particular career. For example, some medical associations may offer scholarships to pre-med students or medical students.

You’ll need to learn what the requirements are for the scholarship, complete an application, and submit any required documentation in advance of the scholarship deadline. Even a small scholarship can help defray your expenses.

#7: Avoid Scholarship Application Pitfalls

One of the most important things you can do to get a scholarship is to ace the application. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t recycle scholarship application essays. It will be obvious if you try to do a “one size fits all” essay and swap out the name of the scholarship. Instead, take your time and be specific about why you think you’re a good candidate for the scholarships.
  • Be careful who you ask for a recommendation. Teacher recommendations can carry a lot of weight, but they’ll carry more if they’re relevant to the scholarship. For example, ask your chemistry teacher to recommend you for a science scholarship, but go to a creative writing teacher for a writing scholarship.
  • Don’t apply for just one or two big scholarships. Seeking out smaller awards can increase your chances of getting the money you need and, as a bonus, the competition may not be as fierce as it is for large scholarships.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Taking your time will ensure that you can proofread your work and double-check to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do.

Finally, never pay to apply for a scholarship. Any organization that asks for an application fee is running a scam. Skip it and move on to the next one.

Applying for scholarships can be time-consuming, but it’s also one of the best ways to afford college and graduate without a mountain of debt. The seven tips we’ve outlined here can help you find and win the scholarships you need.

To learn about Addition Financial’s flexible student loan options in the event you don’t get enough scholarship money to cover the cost of tuition, please click here now.

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