Searching for College Scholarships
Scholarships are free money for your college education. More than 1.5 million scholarships worth more than $3.4 billion are awarded by philanthropists, foundations, companies and colleges each year. Most scholarships are awarded based on special qualifications, such as academic, artistic or athletic talent. While there is a lot of competition for scholarships, they can play an important role in your plan for paying for college.
The best way to find scholarships is to search online. FinAid lists the most popular free scholarship matching services at www.finaid.org/scholarships. Of these, FastWeb.com is the largest and most frequently updated, with automatic email notification of new awards that match your profile. It takes just 30 to 60 minutes to complete a profile, and you’ll immediately see full information about the scholarships for which you are eligible, for free. You’ll then have to write to the sponsor for application materials.
You should also look for scholarships at the local public library, high school guidance counselor’s office, and college financial aid office. The public library will have a college of scholarship books, usually near the jobs and careers section. Your guidance counselor and local financial aid office will often have a bulletin board where they post information about local awards. Local awards are often less competitive, so your chances of winning are greater.
To maximize your chances of winning a scholarship:
- Start searching for scholarships as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss any deadlines. There are even awards available for elementary school students (see www.finaid.org/scholarships/age13.phtml)
- Don’t apply if you don’t qualify. Most scholarship sponsors receive many more qualified applications than available awards, so it is a waste of your time to apply if you don’t qualify. But do apply for as many awards as possible, if you qualify.
- Identify the criteria the scholarship sponsor uses to select the winners, and target your application toward those criteria.
- Create an “accomplishments resume” and provide a copy to the people who will be writing letters of recommendation for you. They can use it to work in details into their letters.
- Use concrete examples in your answers to the application questions.
When searching for scholarships, beware of scholarship scams. If you have to pay money to get money, it’s probably a scam. The most common scholarship scams are scholarships that charge an application fee or ask for your social security number, bank account number, or credit card number. There are also scholarship matching services that charge a fee and guarantee results. Nobody can guarantee that you’ll win a scholarship.
Don’t neglect other sources of financial aid for college, such as money from the government and colleges. Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.ed.gov to apply for federal and state aid, such as the Pell Grant and low-cost student loans. Also don’t forget about education tax benefits, which can help defray college costs when you file your federal income tax return.
Reprinted with the permission of FinAid. © 2008 by FinAid Page, LLC. All rights reserved.
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