You know that feeling you get when you unexpectedly find money in your pockets? For a fleeting moment, you feel so overjoyed; like all of your dreams could come true. Ok, maybe a little dramatic, but I think we can all agree that newly discovered money can be very exciting no matter how large or small the value. So, if finding spare change in your pockets can bring you such delight, wouldn’t you like to experience something like that on a larger scale with the potential for a much bigger payoff?
If you are nodding your head in agreement with dollar signs in sight, then let’s take a moment to explore the many possible scholarships that are out there and potentially waiting just for you! At the very least, you will walk away from reading this article having gained a little bit of knowledge, and if you’re committed, the chance to save a lot of money.
Don't be discouraged
The cost of higher education is astronomical these days. With the economy experiencing such lows, tuitions will continue to rise and the average student/family will struggle to find ways to pay for college. Many will rely on student loans to get them through in addition to those who are already living with large monthly payments and seemingly stagnant high balances. And although student loans should never be the first plan of action when it comes to paying for college, they can certainly be a valuable and reliable resource for many.
Scholarships, on the other hand, are what we like to call “free money;” in other words, they don’t have to be paid back! By applying for (and ultimately securing) college scholarships, you will open the door to a world of savings for both you and your family, as opposed to taking on a mountain of debt that will last long after you receive your degree.
So many options
Scholarships vary in amount, frequency and requirements. While some are awarded as part of a contest (luck of the draw), others are based on a specific requirement, such as grades, heritage, background, career goals, etc. Some scholarships are only a one-time award, while others cover an entire semester, year or total cost of your college education. No matter how large or small a scholarship award might be, they are always worth applying for (if you meet the requirements) because as you will soon find out, every penny really does count.
The time is now!
If you want to see what scholarships you might be eligible for, then you need to get the ball rolling NOW!
If you are trying to protect your piggy bank from the theoretical hammer strike of college expenses, then you should probably begin your scholarship search some time during your junior year of high school. (Don’t worry, for you seniors out there that haven’t started looking yet, you haven’t missed out. Every scholarship is unique and most have very specific deadlines, so get started right away if you haven’t done so already!) The sooner you start the process, the more mindful you can be of approaching submission dates. It doesn’t take a 4.0 GPA to figure out that the more time you give yourself to research and apply, the better chances you will have for being awarded.
Search and apply
To begin the process, all you need is time and a little bit of patience to conduct a simple internet search. Search for scholarships with some of the qualities you think might make you an eligible candidate and don’t be scared off by the common misconception that scholarships are only for the high academic achievers and gifted athletes. According to SallieMae.com, one of the nation’s leading student loan providers, “Not every scholarship is based on academic performance or financial need. There are hundreds of scholarships available that consider all types of criteria: debate, art, music, sports, even baking.”
Regardless of the kind of scholarship you receive or what you receive it for, most are accompanied by the task of a lengthy application and/or essay, so make sure you search carefully and only apply for those you are truly eligible for. Scholarships.com warns, “If you don’t follow the rules, you are probably just going to waste your time applying. Do it right if you want to win.”
In addition, be sure to utilize your high school guidance counselor or the financial aid office to help you identify scholarship opportunities that might be a good fit for you as well. There may even be money available from your high school or local groups that they can better direct you to. Remember, these counselors and advisors are there to help you succeed in your college search – develop relationships with them and they have the potential to become your best friends throughout this sometimes daunting process.
For those of you who are determined to do everything in your power to make your academic career a success, take advantage of the thousands of scholarships that are out there to assist you. Your education is the best investment you will ever make.
Jessica Shoemaker is a freelance writer based in Rochester, New York.
Here are 10 topics to consider when beginning your college scholarship search:
Expected college major
Gender and/or race
Hobbies (arts, music, cooking/baking)
And this is just the beginning! Hopefully these suggestions will get the ball rolling and your creative juices flowing; think about what you like, what you are passionate about and what you are most interested in. You will be surprised at the number of scholarships out there that will reward you for simply being you!