The cost of a college education has risen to unthinkable levels over the last two decades. Few parents have the extra cash on hand to cover these costs, so student loans and mounting debt have become a reality for many students. Image graduating with an outstanding debt of 50 to 100 thousand dollars. It almost defeats the purpose of getting that degree in the first place. With no end to tuition increases in sight, financial aid packages are essential for most students.
Fortunately, aid opportunities have also multiplied in recent years. Scholarships and grants were once thought of as only available for the poor or the brightest students. That is no longer true. These days, almost everyone is eligible for some type of award.
Free money for college can be divided into two basic categories: scholarships (usually merit based) and grants (usually need based). Of course, many other conditions apply to various awards. Minority status, gender, career plans, and field of study are the most common qualifiers for today’s financial aid awards. Almost everyone can use one of these categories to focus their search for aid.
One of the best sources for college grants is the federal government. Be sure to submit The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. This will tell you if you are eligible for a Pell grant, and colleges will use this information to determine if you qualify for a school-sponsored grant. Private grant foundations may also require the FAFSA be completed before considering you for an award.
Ideally, a student would start looking for scholarships during the junior year of high school. This may seem early, but some awards require an application be submitted the year before you begin your first semester in college. Furthermore, collecting the names and contact information of prospective awards can take months. You must also factor in time for completing lengthy application forms, writing essays, and scheduling interviews.
In your search for scholarships, focus on three main sources. First, search your local community. Start with the high school councilor’s office, your local library, churches, community organizations, and any corporation that is based nearby. Next, contact the financial aid office of each college you are considering. They can tell you about all school-based awards that may not appear in the standard listings. Finally, use the Internet. The standard search engine is of some use, but dedicated scholarship search sites are a tremendous resource. Some of these data banks have up to 800,000 awards indexed. Best of all, you can search based on a personal profile that will match scholarships to your unique situation.
Of course, this article can only get you started in the right direction. College funding is a complicated process and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember that almost half of all college students receive some type of aid, so the chances of success are good. With a dedicated and organized search plan, you can get your share too.