Need money for college? Student loans might be the first thing that comes into your head, but you should start looking for undergraduate scholarships first. Also called “gift aid,” undergraduate scholarships are funds that don’t need to be paid back.
Start your undergraduate scholarship search
Start your search with a visit to your local public library, high school counselor and prospective college’s financial-aid office Web site. Also search scholarship databases online (three good places to start are www.supercollege.com, www.fastweb.com and www.wiredscholar.com). Don’t forget to contact local businesses about potential scholarship opportunities, including your workplace and community, religious and civic organizations.
Though some undergraduate scholarships are reserved for students with special skills and qualifications, you don’t need to be a star athlete or gifted artist to qualify for this free money. Awards also can be based on your hobbies, organizational affiliations, career goals, geographic area, ethnicity and financial need. There are also many unusual scholarships out there, such as one for left-handed students or for designing your prom attire using duct tape! The bottom line is: Don’t assume you’re ineligible for undergraduate scholarships. If you start your search early enough and search often enough, you have an excellent chance of finding free money.
Search and application tips
The scholarship search and application process can be overwhelming. Thousands of undergraduate scholarships are available, and you’re not going to be eligible for every single one. But if you start looking as early as possible (now is perfect), stay organized and keep on searching even when you feel like you’ve exhausted all your leads, you have a better chance of scoring a scholarship. Other tips to keep in mind during your search include:
- Prioritize awards by how closely you meet the applicant requirements. Put the deadline and priority of each award on a calendar so you know which applications to complete first.
- Request scholarship information as early as possible, and be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
- List the materials you will need for each scholarship application so you’ll know how many transcripts and letters of recommendation you will need.
- Make your application stand out. Scholarship committees (and college admissions officers) look favorably on candidates who participate in extracurricular activities or do volunteer work. Get involved in your school if you aren’t already.
- Include a cover letter with your application that highlights your college plans and career goals, as well as any personal information you might want considered during the scholarship committee’s decision process.
- When it’s time to submit your completed application, be sure to send all required documents with your application. Otherwise, your application could be considered incomplete. Also, you might want to send it via certified mail so you can ensure the documents are received.
- Make copies of every application you submit for your records.
- Send a thank-you note once your application has been received. This gesture can only better your chances with the committee.
Audrey Rutherford is marketing communications manager for Chase Education First, exclusive marketing representative for federal education loans made by JPMorgan Chase Bank.
BE SCAM SAVVY!
Be wary of undergraduate scholarship scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Here are a few common examples:
• Sketchy free seminars—Although some hosting organizations are legitimate, a number are disguised sales pitches for fee-based scholarship searches or high-interest-rate loans.
• Fee-based scholarship searches—Be wary if an organization asks for an up-front fee for scholarship matching/searching services. Many of these companies will just take your money and disappear without helping you. Paying fees to get an edge over other scholarship seekers doesn’t work. Diligent searching, good organization and use of free resources does.
We do recommend one fee-based scholarship service, ScholarshipExperts by Unigo. The fee is nominal and is used towards operating expenses to keep their extensive database updated. Also check out www.nextstepu.com/winfreetuition to register for a $10,000 scholarship.
• Scholarships requiring an application fee—Multiply a $10 fee times 2,000 applicants for just one $1,000 scholarship, and companies requiring you to pay for a chance at a scholarship have already made a huge profit. There are thousands of legitimate scholarships available each year that don’t cost a dime for you to apply!
• Random scholarship prize-—Exercise caution if someone contacts you and says you’ve won a scholarship for which you never applied. And if these organizations request a redemption fee or bank account information in order to hold your scholarship money, exercise extreme caution and contact the authorities.