College scholarships can help you get money to make a dent in the skyrocketing costs of higher education in the U.S. today.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a four-year institution, including tuition, fees and room and board, was $37,990 in the 2014-15 school year, the last year for which data was available. This is 350 percent more than the same education in the 1984-85 school year. If we accounted for inflation alone, the cost would be about $20,000 today, using a cumulative rate of 128 percent.
The Washington Post ran a story last summer just before the 2017-2018 school year started about the rising “fees” students have to pay in addition to tuition, room, and board. These fees — for anything ranging from athletics to the use of libraries and student centers — have risen 95 percent since 2000.
Avoid Student Loan Debt with College Scholarships
Theories abound on why the cost of college has gone up by such an outsized rate, but one of the reasons has to be that people keep paying it. And many are able to get money to pay these steep costs only because the government grants them loans for tens of thousands of dollars.
Applying for student loans is not like applying for a loan for a car or a house where the bank runs a check on your credit, because most students are young and have no credit yet. The first line on their credit report is often staggering student loan debt.
You can chip away at this cost, however, by applying for college scholarships. Many are small — $1,000 or $2,000 — but if you get enough of them, it can make a big difference. Think of finding and applying for best college scholarships as a part-time job. No retail or fast-food outlet would pay you as much when you consider the time and effort that goes into finding and applying for college scholarships.
The Department of Education lists many sources of college scholarships, including your high school’s counseling office and college financial aid offices. But that’s just scratching the surface. There are literally thousands of college scholarships available.
Where should you look?
How to Find College Scholarships
1. The Department of Labor lists 7,500 scholarships, fellowships, and grants you can apply for. The site allows you to filter for the type of award, degree level, state and more. Some scholarships are specific to a particular field of study or religious or other organization, many have requirements such as maintaining a certain GPA, living in a specified area or attending a particular school.
2. A Pell Grant can provide up to $5,550 for your college education. To apply, your family must first complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which determines your EFC, or expected family contribution. Most Pell Grants go to students whose families earn $25,000 a year or less. Any student who qualifies for a Pell Grant can receive one, it is not competitive or limited.
3. An FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant) awards between $100 and $4,000 a year to needy students. You must also fill out the FAFSA before applying for this grant. But you can only apply for a FSEOG if the school you are attending participates in the program. Each participating school gets a set amount of FSEOG funds, and unlike Pell Grants, when they run out, they cannot grant anymore.
4. If you’re planning to become a teacher, you may want to apply for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant. This program awards students up to $3,736 a year. In exchange, the students must sign an agreement promising to work in a low-income or high-need school for four years. If you don’t do your four years within eight years of graduation, the government converts your grant to a loan and charges you interest.The Washington Post ran a story recently about TEACH grant recipients making minor mistakes in paperwork and finding their grants converted to loans, so if you apply for and receive this grant, be sure to stay on top of the rules and get all your forms signed and filed on time.
6. Another helpful site is CollegeScholarships.org. You can browse 23,041 available scholarships, but even better, they have a helpful search button where you can plug in anything in your background that might be helpful in securing an award. Were you a Boy Scout? There’s a scholarship for that. Play the guitar? Practicing Catholic? Love bowling? Native American and pursuing a career in newspapers? It can’t hurt to search whatever’s in your background and see if you can get a scholarship out of it. (Proof is required for many of these.)
7. Scholarships.com also has a vast database of available scholarships, and you can search by grade level, major, state and more. You can search for scholarships for athletics as well and other, narrower categories; they even have a category called unusual scholarships. This site also offers advice and strategies for applying for best college scholarships.
Words of Warning When Applying for a College Scholarship
When applying for federal grants, keep in mind that some have strict rules, and if you do not follow them, you could be in jeopardy of losing your grant or worse, being required to pay back a grant you already received. Requirements may include maintaining a specific grade point average, taking a designated course load, completing the yearly paperwork on time and more.
U.S. News & World Report says it’s also a good idea to apply for some local scholarships, since the competition will be lighter for these than for national awards.
Be careful when visiting different sites looking for college scholarships. Many links will take you to sites that offer financial aid, which is not the same. Financial aid is a loan that needs to be paid back; a college scholarship is free money.
A good time to start applying for college scholarships is the summer before your senior year. Even if you have a summer job, you will likely have more time and feel less pressure over break, so it will be easier to search and apply for college scholarships. And using your evenings for this instead of watching Netflix is much more lucrative.
Beware of College Scholarship Scams
The last piece of advice we have for you is to beware of scams when you’re applying for college scholarships. Many websites can look legitimate, but a red flag to watch out for is if they ask for money. Scammers sometimes try to disguise this hustle as an “application fee.” Since colleges can legitimately charge you an application fee, it is easy to fall for this, but don’t let it happen to you.
Other common scamming techniques include asking for an up-front fee for a nonexistent low-interest loan and offering a “scholarship search” service that guarantees you will win a scholarship.
You could stay busy for thousands of hours applying for scholarships only using the websites we listed above, so if you’re planning to branch out and browse other sites, be careful and never give out personal information like bank account or credit card numbers or your Social Security number.
Students often worry how they will be able to get the money they need to pay for college; with effort and perseverance, you can help pay your education tab with college scholarships.