|Thursday, May 23, 2013|
Digging for Gold: How to Find College Scholarships
According to College Board estimates, the annual cost of attending a public four-year college (including tuition, room, board, transportation, books, and other expenses) is $12,841 if you're a resident and $19,188 if you're an out-of-state student. Private four-year schools average about $27,600 annually. The College Board is a national, nonprofit membership association in New York that informs students about college opportunities.
These numbers may be daunting, but there is money out there to help you pay for school. In fact, there are an estimated 750,000 scholarships available for qualified students, a total of $1.2 billion.
If you want to get your hand in that pot of gold, start looking early. Rough odds are one in 25 for receiving a scholarship of some kind. That means if you want enough scholarship money to put you through college, you need to know where and when to look, and how to apply.
Types of scholarships
"The word 'scholarship' is primarily used to refer to gift aid, or aid that does not need to be repaid," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, a financial aid resource.
There are three major scholarship sources, according to Kantrowitz: government (federal and state), colleges and universities, and the private sector. Government scholarships consist of money that comes directly from the government. Universities award university scholarships to accepted applicants. And companies, organizations, or individuals award private sector scholarships.
Another common scholarship distinction is that of need- vs. merit-based. "The primary criterion for need-based scholarships is financial need," says Kantrowitz. The majority of need-based aid comes from the government. In fact, almost 40% of college undergraduates classified as needy receive government money in the form of Pell Grants. The average size of a government scholarship is $2,001.
Merit-based scholarships--which generally are private sector scholarships--have nonfinancial criteria, such as academic, artistic, and athletic merit, according to Kantrowitz. The average size of a private scholarship is $2,051. Only 6.9% of college students receive a private scholarship.
Many scholarships have deadlines as early as August or September.
Where to find free money
Thanks to the Internet, finding money for college is easier than ever. In fact, free scholarship databases provide information about thousands of scholarships. Some even allow you to create a personal profile and generate a search that will find the scholarships you're best qualified for.
One such database, FastWeb, lists about 600,000 scholarships.
If you use online databases, try to use more than one. You will find a lot of overlap, but some scholarships may be unique to each Web site.
Furthermore, if you use the personal profile search option, be as specific as possible. For example, if your choice of major is "marine biology," put that, not "biology" or "science." The more specific you are, the better the scholarships found will fit you, and the better your chances of receiving money.
And remember, never pay fees to obtain access to a scholarship Web site or database.
If you aren't quite so tech-savvy, the public library has plenty of books containing scholarship information. But be wary of any scholarship listing that is three or more years old, as award programs change from year to year. You also can ask a school guidance counselor or a financial aid officer at a university you're interested in.
Tips to help you cash in
Remember: The early bird gets the worm. Although you usually cannot apply until your junior or senior year in high school, some experts suggest that high-school freshmen should be looking for scholarship opportunities. By doing this, you can identify the scholarships you would most like to win and then take classes or get involved in activities that will help you win that particular award. But, Kantrowitz warns, only pursue something you are passionate about. Don't take a subject you aren't interested in just to win a scholarship.
And remember, many scholarships have deadlines as early as August or September, so don't wait until January of your senior year to start applying.
Furthermore, be persistent. The typical high-school student should be eligible to apply for 30 to 40 different scholarships. The more scholarships you apply for, the higher your chances are of being awarded money. However, advises Kantrowitz, don't apply for a scholarship for which you don't qualify. It's a waste of time.
Rough odds are one in 25 for receiving a scholarship of some kind.
Finally, think small. The big money scholarships also are the most competitive, with thousands of students applying for one award. In addition to applying for a big award, consider applying for smaller awards offered by local businesses, organizations, or religious venues. These often are easier to obtain.
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