Chances are pretty good that need-based financial aid probably won’t cover your tuition bill. So, how else can you make college more affordable? Scholarships, of course.
When you start your scholarship search, the goal is to find enough money to cover the cost of tuition and room and board, but also have enough left to enjoy your experience.
You don’t want to spend your entire last semester of high school writing essays. And you definitely don’t want Mom to yell at you every day because you haven’t applied for every single scholarship in existence.
So where can you find the best scholarship opportunities? What will get you the biggest bang (money) for your buck (time)? It all depends on you.
1. Academic Scholarships
There is a lot of money to be had in the world of high test scores and exceptional GPAs.
Colleges and universities will typically have different levels of academic award scholarships based on either ACT/SAT scores, GPA, or a combination of the two. These usually have fancy names like the “Presidential Award” or “Old Gold Scholarship”, and are usually awarded based on your admission application with no additional materials (essays) required.
In addition to these awards, many private schools will also have scholarship weekends by invitation only. The students who have the strongest admission profiles are invited back to campus to interview with alumni and local leaders for a variety of additional scholarships, and sometimes full-tuition awards.
Take a look at colleges’ financial aid pages. You can usually find information about scholarships they offer there. If not, don’t be afraid to email someone in the financial aid office. It is literally their job to help you find money.
But, academic scholarships aren’t for everyone. Maybe you slacked off freshman year, but worked really hard to make up for it, and ended up with an average GPA. Or perhaps you are just a terrible test taker and couldn’t quite master the ACT/SAT. Not to worry, there are other options available.
2. Involvement Scholarships
The second thing that comes to mind for me, after academic scholarships, is athletic scholarships. But I’m going to refer to this section as “involvement” because sports aren’t the only thing you can receive awards for participating in.
Yes, large universities thrive on athletics and the players reap the benefits of that. A well-kept secret is that those who support them also receive scholarships. And who supports a football team more than the cheerleaders and marching band? That’s right–they can receive money too!
One of the best ways to get scholarships is to be involved in extracurriculars during high school. You can be an athlete, a musician, a cheerleader, or a thespian and get award money. Find something you love, and continue to do it in college. At private schools especially, they will literally give you money to participate in activities that you enjoy, at their school. (Note: these awards sometimes require an interview or audition)
3. Leadership Scholarships
Not at the top of your class, don’t like sports, can’t carry a tune to save your life? That’s okay. Chances are you’re passionate about something.
Maybe you spend your time volunteering at an animal shelter instead of cheering in the stands or starring in the spring musical–colleges want you, too. As with the academic awards, leadership scholarships are usually posted on a school’s financial aid website.
At the end of the day, colleges want to know what value you’ll be bringing to their campus. If you organize community events, volunteer, or will in some other way make the school a better place, you can probably find a scholarship for it. (Note: these awards sometimes require an interview or essay)
4. Local Scholarships
One of the greatest sources of scholarship opportunities, aside from the school you’re planning to attend, is your local community. Each fall/winter your school counselors are mailed an endless number of scholarship posters, flyers, and brochures to post in common areas.
The American Legion chapters have scholarships every year. Many local banks and businesses have scholarships you can apply for. Some applications are more extensive, others are a simple form and transcript request.
The best thing about these scholarship opportunities? They’re only available for a small population. Some are by county, others by the school. There could be a scholarship available in your hometown that only 3 other students apply for. Those are pretty good odds, don’t you think?
Unless you’re a straight-A, perfect score student, chances are you’re going to have to do some searching for scholarship money. Start your search for scholarship opportunities small, and close to home. Talk to someone in the financial aid office of the school you’re planning on attending and your school counselor. They are the scholarship gatekeepers.
You might be 1 of 400,000 students that applied for the Coca-Cola scholarship. But you could also be 1 of 2 that applied for your hometown electric company’s scholarship-and they hand out two!