The world of financial aid and college scholarships is often perceived as nebulous and daunting—and rightfully so. Myriad abbreviations such as EFC, COA, and AGI repeat across FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) pages and websites. Understanding net price calculators becomes as critical as learning the difference between subsidized, unsubsidized, Stafford, Plus, and Perkins loans. Not to mention Pell Grants and promissory notes.
Yet for most students, without this monetary aid, the dream of college vanishes. Or equally as common, the student will have to default to a less desirable school because it is more affordable. Thankfully, the world of scholarships doesn’t have to be confusing or intimidating. In fact, the scholarship search is a straightforward process at which anyone can succeed, if willing to invest the time and effort.
Here are some tips and thoughts on how to make the most of your time and scholarship opportunities.
1) What are scholarships?
Scholarships are a form of gift aid, or “free money,” that does not have to be paid back. This money is generally based on merit, but also on student need.
2) What kinds of scholarships exist?
Presently, there are about 2.4 million scholarships available, worth about 14 billion in aid. So, in other words, just about every kind of scholarship exists. For instance, there is even a $3,000 Duck Tape Brand Duct Tape Prom Dress Award for the student who wears the best Duct Tape dress to prom! These awards come in every shape and size, from local to national, from service-based (Kiwanis) to corporate-sponsored.
3) Whom are scholarships for?
In essence, everybody! Scholarships are for those in need of financial aid and for those who have proved high achievement in academics, standardized testing, and general education—the latter being much like recruitment scholarships.
4) The importance of scholarships?
Without financial aid, some students cannot afford college. Scholarships help bridge the gap between what a family can reasonably contribute (EFC) and what aid the student has received from a college. Scholarships often make the dream of college a reality. Also, many students work extremely hard at school and standardized tests, and a scholarship can be an affirmation of their achievement. In other words, even if a student isn’t desperate for scholarship money, a merit-based award is often motivating and intrinsically rewarding to college-bound kids, which in turn fosters self-esteem and even harder work.
5) How to apply for scholarships?
FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the necessary evil! Every candidate must fill this out to be considered for almost all scholarships. Regardless of financial situation, this form is required for every student. College Board CSS Profile—also a must for everyone to fill out, regardless of income. Directly apply to university, scholarship foundation, or other specific endowment. Each will have its own unique application.
6) The scholarship search?
Millions of scholarships offer lots of opportunity, but one must treat the scholarship search process like a full-time job. According to Christopher Penn, in “Scholarship Search Secrets,” for every 100 scholarships found, a student will apply to 10, and be awarded 1. These numbers equal hard work, but also success. Start locally in search, and then spiral out. The internet is your best friend!
7) One word of caution…
As with any investment, make sure your time is yielding substantial results. In other words, don’t spend weeks gaining a few hundred dollars in scholarships when you could have worked every day after school and saved almost a thousand dollars. The scholarship search can be fruitful, but always keep an eye on time versus return.
8) Scholarship search engines.
These are the best places to begin your search for scholarships.
In conclusion, the scholarship search is like a full-time job, but one that eventually pays off. If one keeps diligent records of searches, commits a certain part of every day to the scholarship search and is persistent, then he or she will find success. Hopefully, that monetary aid will make the dream of college come true.