If you’re like most prospective college students, you’re likely concerned about how you’re going to pay for tuition. Today, the average bachelor’s degree recipient graduates with $30,100 of debt, which isn’t exactly a good way to start your financial future.
Fortunately, scholarships exist to help students make attending college more affordable—and in some cases, a more realistic goal. The trouble is, not everyone knows how to find those scholarships, or how to determine which ones are worth pursuing.
Scholarships aren’t like loans or other forms of financing. Instead, they exist as an award or a gift, and often a recurring one. Getting a scholarship is basically like getting free money to pay for tuition and fees (in most cases), which means you won’t have to pay the money back.
On top of that, most scholarships are easy to qualify and apply for. It might take you an hour or two to write an essay, fill out a questionnaire, or attend an interview, but that’s a low price to pay for the possibility of thousands—or even tens of thousands of dollars toward your education.
Scholarships come in many forms. They’re offered by all kinds of institutions, including the college or university you plan to attend, companies, nonprofit organizations, and even individual donors. You can receive one for your academic performance, for excelling in a particular sport, or for doing something great for your community. You can even qualify for one based on your heritage or demographic makeup.
But none of that information helps if you aren’t sure where to start looking for one. So where are you supposed to find these scholarships?
- Through your university. You can start by going straight to the source. Most major universities have scholarships made available to their students to reward them for their academic or extracurricular performance (and incentivize better candidates to attend). Talk to an academic advisor at your university of choice about the scholarship options available to you, or search their website to learn more about them.
- Through a company or organization. You can also find scholarships opportunities through various companies and organizations, usually promoting studies in line with the purpose of the institution. For example, certain providers offers a scholarship for students interested in improving their personal finance, or those who have dedicated themselves to educating others about financial topics. Think about companies or organizations that personally interest you, or reach out to an employer, or an employer of a parent or friend. Big companies tend to have more scholarship opportunities than smaller ones, due to having bigger budgets.
- Through a counselor. If you’re still in high school, your counselor should be an ideal resource. Part of their job is helping high school students make the transition to college, which necessitates knowledge about which scholarships are available at which universities. They may also have connections with businesses and organizations in your area that offer scholarships to students like you.
- The U.S. Department of Labor. The U.S. Department of Labor has a free scholarship search tool that anyone can use to wade through more than 8,000 scholarships, grants, fellowships, and other financial aid opportunities. It’s going to take some time to wade through those entries, but chances are, you’ll be able to find at least one source of financial assistance there.
- Federal and state departments. Various federal and state government departments also offer scholarships. These tend to be reserved for students studying a field related to the department; for example, the Department of Energy offers several scholarships, internships, and fellowships to students studying science, mathematics, technology education, and other subjects related to the department.
- The library. Make use of your local library. You may be able to find a scholarship offered by the library itself, or the library community may have several scholarship opportunities posted. Attending workshops and events at the library can introduce you to people in the know about scholarship opportunities, and of course, you can use the resources of the library (i.e., books and computers) to learn more.
- Community gatherings. Get involved in community gatherings, whether you volunteer for a local organization, attend weekly meetings, or take part in special events. It’s a great way to learn about organization-specific opportunities and network at the same time. Plus, your volunteer experience will look great on your application.
For most college students, it’s a good idea to apply for as many scholarships as you possibly qualify for. Many applications only take a few minutes to complete, and it could result in a massive amount of money toward your education. Start your research well in advance of your attendance—preferably months or even a year before you begin classes—to improve your chances of success.