In the news, all over social media and everywhere else in between, you’ll see posts or articles about the rising cost of college. For many people, the trouble isn’t getting into the college of their choice, the issue is being able to afford it. College can be expensive: Between books, tuition and housing, the average American college student is looking at spending tens of thousands of dollars on their college education. It is extremely common to hear college graduates speak of the debilitating, anxiety-inducing student loans that they struggle to pay month to month. Crippling student debt is a scary reality for many college hopefuls, but don’t fret! There are ways to offset the burden of college expenses and arguably the best way is to apply for and hopefully, be awarded scholarships. Below are a few tips to help you begin your scholarship search.
Tip 1: Get organized
Before you even begin looking for scholarships, make a spreadsheet to help keep yourself organized. In the spreadsheet create several fields that covers the basic info about each scholarship, such as the name of the scholarship, the application deadline, and other important things associated with the scholarship, like whether or not an essay, test scores or recommendations are needed. This way as you complete each task, you can mark it off in your spreadsheet. You might end up applying to hundreds of scholarships, so organization will make keeping up with all you have to do less daunting.
Tip 2: Make a list of things you love or things that make you special
Next, make a list of things you love to do and even a list of things that you feel make you special. You might feel a little uncomfortable doing so, but the reason to do this is because there are scholarships out there for so many different types of individuals. Are you a child of a veteran or maybe you’re a single mom? Are you a softball player or a gamer? Were your parents immigrants or do you practice a particular religion? Something that is uniquely you, might be your key to getting a scholarship. Even something as simple as the color of your eyes or the neighborhood you live in could be a source of a scholarship.
Tip 3: Make it your job
If you’re going to apply for scholarships, mentally prepare yourself for the endeavor. Understand that you’re going to have to dedicate a lot of your time to the search before you yield any meaningful results. It might take as much time from your schedule as a full-time job or an extracurricular activity. But hard work normally leads to success, so be prepared to work hard to make your dreams happen.
Tip 4: Be open
Keep an open mind before you actually start looking for scholarships. Make it your mission to apply for any scholarship that you think you even remotely qualify for. Apply for any opportunity, no matter how big or small. A scholarship of $500 will help pay for your books one semester. A scholarship of $100 could help you pay for a meal plan at your future university. Hence, be open to applying for whatever scholarship you find because ultimately even the small amounts can add up to make a dream that was otherwise unreachable, a reality.
Tip 5: Visit your guidance counselor/career advisor/college prep person
Normally, your high school will have a guidance counselor on staff. This person is someone who can help you look for scholarships, choose a school that’s best for you and ultimately that same person will serve as your own personal cheerleader, helping you to navigate the admissions process. Before you start your search, be sure to make an appointment or drop by to see him or her. Your guidance counselor will be an integral part of the scholarship process and you’ll be thankful for the help.
Tip 6: Take advantage of online tools
Familiarize yourself with online tools that can help you find scholarships. There are many free websites out there that can help you find scholarships that are available not only within your community, but sometimes nationally or even internationally. Bookmark sites that are not only reputable, but are also user-friendly. Visit them daily.
Tip 7: Take your college entrance exams early
Do not wait until the last minute to take your college entrance exams. Your scores from the ACT or SAT might be necessary in order to qualify for a scholarship. Also, many scholarships are awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. Hence the funds available for a particular scholarship might depend on how much funds are still available after you’ve applied. You don’t want something like having not have taken the SAT/ACT stop you from qualifying from receiving the funds you need.
Tip 8: Have a game plan
Earlier, the importance of having a spreadsheet to help you stay organized with the scholarship search process was discussed. Beyond that though, you need to have a general game plan. Where and how are you going to search for scholarships? When do you plan to take your college entrance exams? Who will you ask to write recommendation letters for you? Know all this information ahead of time, and you’ll find the process to be a lot less stressful.
Tip 9: Ask the right people for assistance (Financial Aid Office)
Not only is your high school guidance counselor a great resource, but so are the Financial Aid departments at the colleges/universities of your choice. You can speak with a Financial Aid representative there regarding any scholarships that you might be interested in, not only before you start your college education but also during.
Tip 10: Be patient and persistent
Before you start your scholarship search, remember that you will not be awarded a scholarship overnight. Also you may not be rewarded many of the scholarships that you apply for. However, patience and persistence are important while navigating the scholarship search. Don’t give up. Metaphorically speaking, if you knock on enough doors, eventually the right one will open up.