An education is one of the most important and direct routes to self-fulfillment and financial security, but with college tuition on the rise and student loans ballooning out of control, many hopeful students are feeling forced to put off college indefinitely.
The truth is, very few students can afford their entire college education. The majority of them have to depend on a variety of financial aid mechanisms to cover costs. Scholarships are one the best forms of financial aid because they're among the few sources of tuition money that you never have to pay back. There is a vast amount of money that can be earned through privately sponsored scholarships, but many students miss out on this opportunity because they don't know where to look or how to apply.
Here at CareerScholarshipGuide, it is our mission to help students of all financial situations, backgrounds and talents explore their scholarship options. There are hundreds of thousands of scholarships available nationwide, and a huge number of these scholarships are awarded to students with less than stellar grades, adult students returning to school and students with unique circumstances and talents. You won't qualify for every scholarship, but with the right information, enough perseverance and a little bit of luck, you can dramatically increase your chances of winning a significant amount of money to put towards your education.
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Our free scholarship guide simplifies the process of searching and applying to scholarships by providing all the essential information in one place. From tracking down scholarships that fit your criteria to increasing your odds of being selected, our comprehensive scholarship guide has the information, resources and tips you need to make the most of your financial aid options. There is a scholarship out there with your name on it. Let us help you get it!
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WHERE TO LOOK
Looking for college scholarships can be a confusing process. The immense number of scholarships coupled with the lack of comprehensive resources and information available to students makes it difficult to sift through the clutter, causing many students to miss out on a chance to earn money to put towards their college education.
What every students needs to know is that there is a vast amount of free money available in scholarships, and it pays to put in the time and effort to track these scholarships down! Look beyond your college to uncover other private businesses, foundations and community organizations that offer scholarships. Here are some places to start your search.
Tap Into Online Databases
There are a multitude of large online databases that allow you to search for scholarships based on specific criteria. Simply type in your personal profile and the system will search their database and pull the scholarships that are best suited for you. Targeted matching websites like these include Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com.
Ask around at local businesses and organizations as many of them have awards available. In addition, the public library will likely have up-to-date college scholarship directories and other scholarship books for your reference. While this process is a bit more time consuming, you'll discover there are many lesser-known options available to you that don't always pop up in online databases.
Ask Your Guidance Counselor
One of your greatest resources is your high school guidance counselor. They stay informed on the latest scholarship options and often know where to track down a current scholarship directory. Your counselor is also a great resource for helping you apply to scholarships and keep track of deadlines. If you are an adult returning to school, talk to a guidance counselor at your college for grants and scholarship opportunities within the college.
Apply for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC)
Every year, the NMSC awards more than 10,500 students with a $2,500 scholarship for their outstanding academic achievements. The NMSC is an independent, non-profit organization that uses a student's PSAT score to screen for potential recipients. If you wish to be considered for these scholarships, register for the PSAT by October of your junior year. If your scores qualify you for the semifinals, you will be notified with a letter that formally invites you to apply a NMSC scholarship.
TYPES OF SCHOLARSHIPS
Scholarships are funds awarded to students to help cover the cost of their education. Many well-known scholarships spotlight academic and athletic achievements, but you don't have to be the valedictorian or the star quarterback to be eligible for a scholarship. In fact, the opportunities are quite diverse.
A student may receive a scholarship for academic achievement, athletic ability, financial need, artistic talent or something a bit more unusual like the Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck at Prom Scholarship that awards $5,000 to the students who make the best prom outfit out of duct tape.
In many cases, students are awarded scholarships through their college. Some colleges award scholarships automatically based on certain grades or test scores as an incentive for students to attend their school. Other scholarships require students to submit an application and possibly fulfill other criteria like writing an essay or giving an interview. There are also agencies outside of your college that offer scholarships with their own unique eligibility requirements and applications.
Any scholarship is wonderful, but rarely do they pay for your entire education. A full scholarship or a "free ride" refers to a scholarship that covers the entire cost of tuition. Keep in mind that there are additional costs to attending college outside of tuition. Look for comprehensive scholarships to cover the entire cost of attendance, including books, transportation, room and board and all additional fees.
Another important distinction between scholarships is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable scholarships. A non-renewable scholarship pays for one year's worth of tuition. A renewable scholarship will continue to cover every subsequent year of your education, assuming you maintain a certain GPA and meet other conditions that the donor sets forth.
In short, the types of scholarships are endless. In order to narrow down the options, many students complete their college's scholarship application and call it a day, but if you really want to make the most of your resources, look to other private organizations and businesses who offer scholarship programs that may match your specific talents and criteria even better. It may take some extra time and research, but the reward will be worth it.
INCREASE YOUR ODDS
Winning scholarship money is never a guarantee, but there are ways to improve your odds. By planning ahead, researching what's available and covering all your bases, you stand a much greater chance of being the lucky recipient of one, or many, scholarships. In this section, we will discuss some tips for staying ahead of the pack and beating out the competition.
All your hard work will be for nothing if you miss your deadlines. Every scholarship is different, so it's important to stay organized. Start requesting applications at the beginning of your senior year and start gathering extra materials like letters of recommendations right away. When everyone else is scrambling to finish their applications, yours will already have been delivered!
Apply for Early Action
If you already know which schools you want to attend, it's always a good idea to apply for early action. Students that apply for early action get the first look from colleges and receive the first round of scholarships before the pool of money runs low during the regular admissions cycle. Keep in mind that early action still allows you to apply to other colleges and shop around for even better scholarship offers. Early decision, on the other hand, means you are locked into a college and you cannot apply to any other schools.
Prepare to Score High on the PSAT
The PSAT is not just a practice test for the SAT, it's actually the first step towards winning one of the prestigious merit scholarships. Many private organizations and colleges use the PSAT as a screening tool for determining deserving recipients of their scholarships. A high score on your PSAT could mean big bucks in scholarship rewards, so don't just blow it off as a practice test – study for it!
Not only is it next to impossible to apply to every single scholarship, but why would you? Be realistic with yourself, you won't qualify for every scholarship, but you will be a good fit for some of them. It's much better to find the ones that match your criteria and put your best efforts towards those.
What Sets You Apart?
Think about what sets you apart and discover scholarships through the activities you've already cultivated. Ask the coach of your athletic team or the director of your drama club where to find scholarships in your area of interest. Bands, debate teams, math clubs, athletic teams and volunteer organizations often have scholarships that are awarded to outstanding members.
What is Your Major?
Many major corporations award scholarships as a way to give back to the community (and to help their image). If you're pursing a degree in nutrition, investigate corporations that sell health foods. Another way to approach your search is to consider the kinds of companies that would hire someone like you after graduation. For example, Microsoft offers a hefty scholarship to students enrolled in computer engineering programs.
Apply, Apply, Apply!
The only way you can be certain you won't win any scholarship money is if you don't apply at all! Many students don't bother to apply for scholarships because it's too much work. Yes, scholarship applications can be hard work, but once you gather your materials together, it's easy to repurpose essays and letters of recommendations for other applications. You've already done the majority of the work – why not make the most of it?
Don't let a small amount of award money keep you from applying to certain scholarships. Scholarships with smaller awards, like $100, tend to be less popular – which means less competition for you! Plus, there is no rule that says that you can't win multiple scholarships. Enough small scholarships can really add up!
Remember: You don't have to be a straight A student to earn a scholarship. With enough research, you'll discover there are many scholarships out there for you. So start putting together your best application, apply to as many as you can, and good luck!
A significant amount of work is put into researching, preparing and sending out scholarship applications, so it's important to start the process early! In this section, we lay out a plan to help high school students and adults returning to school stay on track.
Adults Returning to School
Application timelines are often focused around the semester of a school year. If you're an adult returning to school, it's a good idea to start your scholarship search as soon as you decide you want to go back to school. Although not all scholarships apply to adult learners, many of them do not make age restrictions. Adults are encouraged to apply for scholarships just like any high school student would.
Junior Year (Two Years Before Attending College)
Register for the PSAT in October of your junior year. The PSAT is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), and it is used as a screening tool for a variety of merit-based scholarships.
Ideally, you want to take the ACT and/or SAT in the winter or spring of your junior year. While you can take (and retake) these tests up until the middle of your senior year, high scores may help you earn certain merit-based scholarships, so it's smart to get those scores in early.
Fall of Senior Year (12 Months Before Going to College)
Start your scholarship search no later than the beginning of your senior year. Check online databases, go to the library and talk to your high school or college guidance counselor. For older students retuning to college, you should still conduct your scholarship search just as a younger student would, and begin a year prior to starting school.
Most scholarship deadlines fall anywhere between October and May. It's extremely important to check your deadlines and make sure to prioritize your applications based on due dates.
Some applications are more comprehensive than others. Essays, letters of recommendations and interviews are commonly required by scholarship panels. Get a head start by preparing two basic essays describing yourself and your future career goals. These essays can be used as the foundation for future writing samples and interview questions. Asking for recommendations is another step you should do ahead of time. You don't want to be stuck waiting on someone else to complete your letter at the last minute.
Apply to college. It may sound obvious, but many students put off applying to college until the last minute. Many scholarships are earned through your college and the sooner you submit your application, the sooner you will hear whether or not your college is willing to offer you free scholarship money for attending their school. Apply early action to receive the first round of funding before the pool of money runs low during the regular admissions cycle. Be careful of early decision applications. The commitment locks you into one college and keeps you from shopping around for better financial aid from other schools.
Winter of Senior Year (8 Months Before Going to College)
By now you should have submitted some of your scholarship applications. Be sure to save copies of all your submissions because you can repurpose the materials for other applications. Since scholarships are available throughout the year, always be on the lookout for more opportunities. You may have started hearing back from scholarships by now, so make sure to keep a running list of scholarships you still need to investigate, scholarships pending completion, scholarship sent and scholarships rejected or received. With all the different deadlines and requirements, organization will really pay off!
Spring of Senior Year (5 Months Before College)
May 1 is usually the scholarship deadline for many colleges. By now you should know where you're going to school and how much financial aid, if any, you will be receiving through scholarships. You must report any outside scholarship money to your school as soon as you have this information. When it comes to outside scholarships, college policies vary. Some schools use outside scholarships to lessen any student loans in their financial aid package. Other schools may use the scholarship to lessen any grants that you would have otherwise received from the college. Talk to your financial aid office (or look at your college's website) to figure out how this will be handled.
Do I have to pay scholarship money back?
Unlike a loan that is borrowed money, scholarships are considered a reward that students are not required to pay back.
Do I have to be a straight A student to win a scholarship?
It is a common misconception that scholarships are only for students at the top of their class. Many scholarships are awarded by private organizations that focus on everything from artistic or athletic abilities to talents that are a bit more unusual like the Stuck on Prom scholarship that gives $5000 to the student who can make the best prom dress or tux completely out of duct tape. There is a scholarship for practically everything you can think of, so do your research!
Where do I look for scholarships?
Most schools offer a variety of scholarship opportunities, but don't limit your search to just that. You should also look to outside organizations. Many major corporations, local businesses and foundations offer scholarships. Target these companies by checking online scholarship databases like Fastweb.com or Scholarships.com. Go to your local library to check out current scholarship directories and talk to your high school or college guidance counselor for other resources and advice.
What is a "free ride" or a "full ride?"
A free fide, also known as a full ride, refers to a scholarship that covers the entire cost of tuition. Few students receive free rides, so it's important to investigate additional financial aid options, including federal loans and grants.
What is a comprehensive scholarship?
A comprehensive scholarship not only covers the entire cost of tuition, but it also pays for all other expenses such as textbooks, transportation and cost of living. Again, these scholarships are rare and highly competitive, so it's important to seek out additional financial aid options.
What is a renewable scholarship?
A renewable scholarship will continue to renew every year to cover all four years of your education, assuming you maintain a certain GPA and meet other conditions that the donor sets forth.
Cat I accept more than one scholarship?
If you are offered more than one scholarship, you are allowed to combine your scholarships up to the value of full tuition. If the total off all your scholarships exceeds the cost of tuition by $300, federal regulation requires colleges to cut the over-awarded students from need-based aid.
Will my college remove my financial aid if I win a scholarship?
Every school sets its own policy in this matter. Ideally, your college will reduce a portion of your loan rather than take away grant money. The best-case scenario is that your college allows you to use your extra scholarship money towards expenses that federal aid won't cover, such as textbooks, transportation and cost of living. Talk to your financial aid office (or look at your college's website) to figure out how this will be handled.
When should I start applying for scholarships?
You can start applying to scholarships at any age and grade level. Student bees, art and writing competitions and community service scholarships are just some of the many types of scholarships that can be awarded to students of all ages. Typically, students start seriously investigating scholarship opportunities in their junior and senior year of high school.
Are there scholarships for adult students returning to school?
Absolutely! Many scholarships do not have age restrictions and adult students are encouraged to conduct a search for scholarships just like their younger counterparts. There are also scholarships specifically designed for adult students. It's a good idea for zero in on some of these scholarships because the pool of people applying is smaller – meaning less competition for you!