How to Apply for Scholarships
Colleges today come with a steep price tag, but you can whittle down that cost. Scholarships for college students — gift money that you don’t need to pay back — are no longer reserved for the star quarterback or the class valedictorian. Scholarships for college students are available based on many factors: talents, hobbies, academic concentration or community involvement. Some awards are even based on criteria you have little say in, such as your ethnic background or height. Still others award unique talents, like the ability to fashion clothing out of unusual materials.
If you have a tuition bill awaiting payment, invest some energy into learning how to apply for scholarships. Here are some ways to get scholarships for college students:
Start right here!
Begin your search online by using NextStepU’s own scholarship search, which provides information on 3 million scholarships worth over $12 billion. You can also check out the Scholarships Galore section found in this issue ofNextStepU Magazine.
Gather your materials
Scholarships for college students all have some paperwork that you will have to fill out: an application and sometimes an essay or supplemental information is needed. But the good news is that once you’ve gathered and organized the basics, most of your work is done.
“Have your resumé, one or two essays, a letter or two of recommendation and a copy of your transcripts,” says Dr. Karyn Koven, director of college counseling at High Tech Los Angeles Charter School. “Also, often a copy of your parents’ tax returns and FAFSA student SAR report [are necessary].”
Getting everything in place will free up time for you to address other requirements, such as videos, portfolios, photographs and more.
Look to your destination
You may not think of it, but most colleges and universities have scholarship money available to incoming freshmen. Due to the timing involved, that may mean that even before you’ve made your final decision, you need to apply for scholarships at your potential schools. Waiting until the last minute is NOT how to apply for scholarships successfully!
“Scholarships in music, theater, business or art are often buried in the department’s website instead of being listed in the admissions or financial aid sections,” says Amy Feins, college counselor and independent educational consultant at Seacrest Country Day School in Naples, Florida. If you don’t find anything listed, check in directly with the department you plan to specialize in.
It’s natural that you might not want fill out paperwork for scholarships at schools you might not even attend, but make the time, urges Feins. “A few hours in the fall can translate to thousands of dollars in the spring when scholarship awards are handed out.” And if you end up having a tough time deciding between a few schools, the answer may be clearer if one school comes through with cash.
Your own hometown loves to see its students succeed, so check with places that know you: where you’ve worked, sports clubs, restaurants and religious affiliations. Spread the word in your community about your college plans. Get on the computer and do a search for scholarships in your town and ask your guidance counselor for local sources as well. Local scholarships may be smaller than national ones, but every little bit helps; a few hundred dollars can offset the cost of books, clothing or travel. Be sure to also check the terms; local gifts are often one-time only, meaning the money is not renewable.
Throw out your net
National scholarships tend to be greater in amount and open to a wider audience. Find out what’s out there by running an online search for ‘college scholarships’; you’ll likely yield dozens of possibilities. But as with any online exploration, proceed with caution. “If you are on a site that asks for money, it’s not legit,” says Mary A. Gamache, college counselor at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia.
Once you’ve registered, most of these sites make it easy for you to come back and check for updates or to sign-up for alerts about scholarships for which you may be a good fit. It’s a good idea to include your parent’s email on any notifications so you are both working toward the same dates.
Check your details
“There are a lot of hoops to jump through and missing even one will prevent you from getting the aid you need,” says Feins. “The early bird definitely gets the worm. We have students every year who miss out…because they forgot a form or filed late.”
With so much money at stake, organization is key so put all the information on a calendar and to-do list. Be sure to work in extra time to prepare essays or supplemental information, or to allow teachers or counselors to write letters of recommendation.
Scholarship money is out there, so don’t miss out on your chance to trim down the cost of college. Start early, cover all your bases and watch the checks come in!
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer who has published more than 100 articles in national and regional magazines.