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Students have to juggle a lot while applying for college: regular school work, ACT/SAT test prep, college visits, seeking recommendation letters, narrowing their list, and then comes the headache of figuring out how to pay for it.

With so many myths about scholarships out there, it can be easy to latch onto the “they aren’t worth the effort” one and forget them entirely. But this is a massive mistake. Here’s why:

Scholarships are the Best Way to Pay for College

Scholarships win this award by a landslide. They are gift aid, which means they don’t accrue interest or have to be repaid. There are hundreds upon hundreds of scholarship opportunities out there—both institutional and private, both merit and need-based.

The more you earn in scholarship money, the less you’ll have to take out in student loans—which means you’ll graduate with less student loan debt. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. Apply to every scholarship you’re eligible for, it truly is worth the time and effort.

Ways to Save Time and Still Earn Scholarships

If time is an issue, there are methods to save it.

Start Early: Start searching and applying for scholarships ASAP. Don’t wait for senior year, don’t wait until things are “less hectic”, don’t wait at all. The sooner you begin, the less stress you’ll feel when things get down to the wire.

Schedule Time: Make time in your schedule to look for scholarships, and do it consistently. Make a goal for yourself, like: apply to two scholarships a week, or spend an hour on Wednesday night searching. Whatever works for you.

How Much Effort to Put In

Your focus can be divided among a lot of things during this time, so how do you manage effort? Scheduling in time will definitely help, but there are other ways too:

Eligibility: Don’t bother applying to scholarships you don’t qualify for. Even if your GPA is a 3.1 and they ask for a 3.2. Even if they ask for 50 volunteer hours and you only have 48. Keep your focus on scholarships you do qualify for.

Essays: With proper editing, you can recycle your scholarship essays for more than one opportunity. Just be sure to tailor your response to the sponsor and that your essay isn’t too generic.

More Work, Less Competition: Scholarships that require a bit more work often frighten other students away. It still can be worthwhile to pursue these opportunities, however, as your chances for winning go up as the competition goes down.

And when scholarships aren’t enough, you’ll need to find the right student loan. Use College Raptor’s free Student Loan Finder to compare lenders and interest rates side by side!