Financial Literacy

Searching for Scholarships


College can be expensive, but luckily it doesn’t always have to be a financial burden. Earning scholarships and grants is one way to help diminish the overwhelmingly large price tag that is attached to getting a college education.

Written by Josephine Redfern 

College is expensive, but it's also an investment for the future. Many people shy away from going to college because of the amount of money that it requires. However, there are many alternatives to spending your own money or taking out massive loans. Scholarships are not just for athletes, and they are given out for more things than a lot of people realize. In this blog, I am going to give you the ideas and resources that I used to lower my financial burden when I made the decision to go to college.

Government grants and scholarships

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA is most often associated with student loans, however, this government program hands out a lot more money than you might realize. FAFSA has a lot of grants that they give out each year that you might be eligible for. In order to make sure you can get as much money as possible you need to be sure to apply as early as you can. Every student planning on going to college is required to fill out FAFSA, but the earlier you fill it out the better. These grants are also based on your financial needs, so not everyone will have the chance to receive the larger grants such as the Pell grant.

The FAFSA can be overwhelming too, here’s a guide on the five things you’ll need to get started.

Merit based scholarships

The most common way to receive scholarships is based on your merit as a student. This includes your grades and academic performance, recommendations from teachers or managers, or volunteer experience. If you want to receive merit scholarships, you must be sure to do your best throughout your high school experience. Some scholarship awards even increase with greater test scores on the SAT, ACT and others. If you had a rough start or struggle academically, that’s okay! Non-academic scholarships are out there too. Volunteering, leadership involvement, and how you are perceived by your teachers or managers is important too. A lot of scholarships ask for your extracurricular experiences and letters of recommendations from trusted adults, not just your high school transcripts. What you do and how you act outside of the classroom can make a huge difference on whether you will be considered for money.

Local scholarships

The way that I found most helpful for receiving scholarships was to apply for ones in my area, provided by small businesses, local community foundations or churches, the city council and my school district. Neighborhood associations also will hold scholarships. In order to be eligible for local scholarships usually the organization will ask for transcripts, letter of recommendation, and an essay! One scholarship that I received asked why I thought education was important in my community. A lot of organizations will provide very similar essay prompts, so make sure you hold on to every essay you write, in case you can reuse it for a different scholarship opportunity later. You might have to do some online research to find these or talk to your school’s academic advisors for ones they may know of in your area.

Want to know the most common scholarship essay prompts to better prepare yourself? Check out this article by College Financial Aid Advisors.

Scholarships for unique identities and funny traits

My favorite types of scholarship opportunities are ones that are awarded for unique identities, and some can be a little goofy. These scholarships are usually nationwide and require a little more creativity from applicants. When I was applying for scholarships I applied for one meant for gingers in the United States! Some are available based on ethnic or racial backgrounds, known disabilities (even height), if you are a first generation college student or even based on your field of interest (like STEM). There are also competitive opportunities such as making a prom dress out of Duct Tape, or making a viral video. Even though these scholarships are a little harder to receive and can be more challenging, they’re definitely more fun than writing essays and applications.

College-Specific Scholarships

If you happen to know where you intend to attend college, check with the University’s admissions or bursar’s office. Sometimes there are unique alumni-funded scholarships or others that the school has set up that may or may not be based on financial status and not automatically awarded based on FAFSA or aid packages. Check back in with them throughout your College experience as some scholarships are designated for upperclassmen too.

With most scholarships, you will want to start your search as early as possible (don’t wait until the end of your senior year!) and keep a detailed calendar of due dates and checklist requirements for each. Scholarships can take up a lot of time to complete but take it one step at a time, because the time invested now can save you years of paying off student loan debt.

Here are a few FREE online search tools to find scholarships, but you’ll want to do some digging and research on your own:

·         Fastweb

·         Scholly

·         CareerOneStop

·         BigFuture College Board

Finding money is possible, going to college is possible. Research opportunities and make sure that you apply for as many scholarships as you can, even if you aren’t convinced you’ll receive one. If you never try, you’ll never know.