Scholarships That Span All Four Years of College

Flickr user Kevin O'Mara

Flickr user Kevin O’Mara

The college process can be confusing for first time families, not knowing what to expect when they send their child off to an expensive campus crawling with possibilities. One of the most complex aspects of the system is, quite simply, paying for it. For a large section of students (and their parents), it is difficult to pay for college without considering a financial relief program, whether it be student loans, aid, or scholarships. Of the latter option, four-year scholarships are the most sought-after for clear reasons; they commit to paying a student’s way through college for four years, a massive financial reward. Four-year scholarships are competitive and hard to snag, but with the right strategies, students can receive one of the coveted awards and, in turn, receive a helping hand with the massive fees college incurs.

4-Year Does Not Necessarily Mean Full-Ride

The average cost of a four-year college tuition usually hovers around $100,000, meaning a scholarship that would eliminate part of these costs is one of the most valuable prizes a student can receive. Four-year “full-ride” scholarships, meaning every last dollar owed by the student comes from the pocket of the university, are exceedingly rare, with only a handful of academics per year receiving this perk. In a larger sense, about 0.3% of all students nationwide received enough money through scholarship funds to pay off all college expenses, whether they came from one source or multiple scholarships awarded simultaneously.

There is a huge difference between a four-year scholarship and a full-ride scholarship, namely, four-year scholarships do not inherently promise to pay a student’s entire way through school. However, these commitments can provide a safety net for students who struggle financially, especially in the current economic landscape. According to recent estimates, nearly $50 billion a year is awarded in scholarship funds, with most of the money coming from public sources, such as the US Department of Education. The same statistics tell us that over 60% of students receive some sort of financial relief via scholarship programs.

In the 2012 fall semester, four-year scholarship students at public schools received an average of around $5,000, with private school scholars getting nearly $15,000. If these figures held through every semester of education needed for a four-year degree, you are looking at anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 knocked off the total price of college. Of course, these are only averages; half of students on four-year scholarships will receive even more than this.

How to Find a Four-Year Scholarship

Okay, so we’ve discerned that four-year scholarships are worth your time. The next question, obviously, is how do you get one of these? The aforementioned financial rewards heaped upon deserving scholars by the Department of Education come in all shapes and sizes, with most tailored towards a student’s specific educational track. The most popular program is the four-year Pell Grant, which awards students a maximum of $5,815. The individual payments, however, are adjusted depending on factors such as your personal financial standing and the cost of tuition at your school. Pell Grants are scholarships in every sense of the word, meaning they do not have to be paid back and are rewarded based on a combination of academic prowess and financial need. Approximately eight million students received funding from the Pell Grant program over the past academic year, receiving over $28 billion.

While Pell Grants are perhaps the most well-known of the government’s centralized scholarship program, they are by no means the only path to explore. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form gives students the option to apply for the FSEOG program, which rewards students with “exceptional financial need.” The acronym stands for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which offers students anywhere from $100 to $4,000 a year over four years. Unlike the Pell Grant, there are certain circumstances where the scholarship money needs to be repaid, but this is not the case for the vast majority of recipients. Another difference between the FSEOG and Pell Grants is the allotment method; while Pell Grants are able to be given to as many students as necessary, FSEOG payments can only be awarded to a certain amount of students from each school. This is one of many, many, MANY reasons that you shouldn’t procrastinate on this process; the program is first-come, first-serve.

There’s a plethora of other options available for students in the department of four-year scholarships, and students are encouraged to apply for everything they can, as long as the programs do not intersect. Students may feel that anything less than a full ride is a disappointment or not worth their time, but this could not be further from the truth. Four-year scholarships are a rare occurrence in this day and age, and if you have the opportunity to try and grab one, you should not pass it up.

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