Scholarships and grants are free money to help you pay for college. They are important. You want to keep your college costs as low as possible. But where to start?
The good news is that there are thousands of scholarships available. The bad news is that the scholarship hunt requires time and work. It’s important to understand the big picture and have a plan for finding scholarships you may actually get – and avoid scholarship scam sites that collect your personal data and waste your time.
Scholarships: Three things to think about first
1. You can get them. Scholarships are not just for exceptional students or top athletes. Colleges routinely offer students scholarships to discount their tuition so students can afford to attend. And there are thousands of private scholarships available if you know how to hunt them down.
2. Apply to colleges that are a particularly good fit for you. A lot of scholarship money is granted through colleges. You may not need to do anything to get this money. But it is important that the college admissions office is excited about you. Look for colleges that play to your strengths. Is the college looking for people from your background? Do they have scholarships for special abilities or interests that you have?
3. Look close to home. Ask around about scholarships that may be available through connections that your parents or family members may have. Employers, unions, community groups, and places of worship may offer scholarships that are overlooked by most students. Also, be sure to ask your college counselor or teachers about opportunities they may know about.
Scholarships: Look for state and local money
Look for grants from your state or scholarships in your area. Here are three quick ways to see what might be available:
1. See what’s available from your state. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators maintains a list of state financial aid programs and inter-state tuition discount agreements. Look up your state to see what is available. Also be sure to talk to your college counselor. You want to make sure you have the latest information.
2. See what’s available in your area. Search the name of your city or town with the word “scholarships” on your favorite search engine. You may be surprised by the number of local scholarships that are available to students in your area. These organizations will be excited by your application.
3. Ask your librarian. Libraries often offer lots of college help. See if your library has a teen space or college program. The librarian may have a list of grants and scholarships that students have successfully applied to in the past. Teen librarians know the local scene. And they can help you do an efficient search on library computers.
Scholarships: Web search tips
Searching for grants and scholarships can get overwhelming. Here are a two web search tips from College Money Matters:
1. Use the plus and minus signs: Give your search precision by using the plus sign (+) between the words you put in your online searches. Your search results will have all of the words with a + sign in front of them, not just one or some of them. Tip: Don’t leave spaces between your plus or minus and search terms. They need to be right next to each other.
For an aspiring violinist: Scholarships+Music+Violin
If your results keep coming back with certain words or phrases you don’t want, you can exclude those words by entering them in your searches, but with a minus sign (-) in front of them.
For an aspiring classical guitarist: Scholarships+Music+Guitar-Rock
2. Search for scholarships on GuideStar.org: This website provides a list of nonprofit organizations, many of which offer scholarships. To try it, just go to GuideStar, and enter “college scholarships” in the search bar. If you have a special skill or talent, an interesting career goal, or belong to a particular minority group or heritage, add those descriptions to your search.
For an aspiring nurse who serves in the military: College Scholarships+nursing+veteran
Scholarships: Avoid scams
As you search for scholarships, the first set of results will likely be paid ads. Look them over carefully. Some might be worthwhile. But others may be scams. Scam scholarship sites waste your time and money. Don’t let them fool you. Here is what to look for:
1. Some websites claim to offer “no essay” or “easy” scholarships. If they require your personal information and email, they are probably just selling your information to colleges and marketers. Or they are hoping to sell you products or services you don’t need. You will probably get a lot of spam after signing up.
2. If the web address is from a research business or marketing firm, stay away. Again, they are selling your personal information.
3. And never pay to have a website to “find scholarships” for you. The website won’t do anything you can’t do on your own.
Have questions or your own tips for scholarship hunting? Email us! We would love to hear from you.
Kim Nauer is the founder of UnderstandingFAFSA.org and a higher education expert at The New School. Her latest questions: How does anyone read a financial aid letter? And will this all-new FAFSA in the fall really be simpler?