Managing Finances

How to Look for Scholarships

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By: Elana Goodwin, Uloop

The cost of college in America is steep — and it continues to rise year to year. For parents, figuring out how to help your student pay for college without draining your bank account can be a challenge — and that’s where scholarships come in.

Scholarships are free money that your student is awarded, usually after applying for those funds, and can also come in the form of grants. But the process of finding and applying for scholarships can be daunting for parents and students alike. Here’s a guide on how to look for scholarships.

1. Start Early

As a parent, it’s important to know that the scholarship search process can be started early. Your student doesn’t have to wait until they’re a senior in high school to start looking and applying for scholarships and in fact, shouldn’t. Starting the search in freshman or sophomore year will allow your student ample time to research and note scholarships they qualify for, and they can start to compile a list so the search process doesn’t have to be done all at once, on top of having to write the essays or fill out forms for those scholarships.

Your student should devote some time to finding scholarships early on so that they can apply to and would be a good fit for them, adding them to their growing list, and then check back on those scholarship websites their junior and senior years to make sure they are current and to see when deadlines will be.

Additionally, some scholarships are actually available to high school juniors as well as seniors so by starting the scholarship search early, they may be able to find some they can apply to before senior year. Even once they’re in college, there are scholarships available to various years (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors), so they should continue to keep up the scholarship search while in university.

2. Look Locally

Before trying to compete for national scholarships against thousands of other students, you and your student should look into local scholarship opportunities. There may be foundations in your area, religious or community groups, small local businesses, or other organizations that sponsor scholarships to residents, and the pool of applicants for those scholarships will be much smaller than national ones you and your student may find online.

Additionally, it’s worth looking into if your state has any scholarships they award to student residents who plan to attend colleges within their home state. Besides paying in-state tuition there, the state may have money they award to those who plan to study at public or private schools within the state.

3. Research Colleges

Once your student has narrowed down their list of colleges they plan to apply to, you both can look into the scholarships those colleges have available to students. Scholarships and grants given out by colleges are fairly common, though the amount of money available will depend on the size of the school and the number of worthy applicants.

Check out the websites of the colleges your student is interested in and look at their financial aid pages for more information about the type of aid packages the school typically gives out. You can even call the financial aid office and talk to an employee there to ask more questions about how the size of a student’s financial aid package is decided.

Some colleges will automatically submit a student’s name for grants and scholarships depending on your FAFSA information, but it pays to know whether that’s the case or whether you and your student will have to apply for scholarships separately.

4. Search Nationally

There are lots of great scholarships search engines, tools, and resources out there to help parents and students find free money for college. Just keep in mind that when your student applies for a nationally available scholarship, they’re competing against many other impressive students across the country and their chances of winning the scholarship may be small.

Additionally, watch out for scholarship and financial aid scams; never put in confidential information if you’re not sure about the authenticity of the site and be aware there should never be a cost for applying for a scholarship. It may be smart to create a new email address your student can use on scholarship forms and the like so both of your inboxes aren’t flooded with emails from various scholarship sites and programs.

5. Get Specific

If your student knows the field of interest they intend to go into, has a parent that’s a veteran, is the first generation to go to college, is an immigrant, is a minority, etc., there may be some more specific scholarships they can look into. Any interests they have, like art, vegetarianism, writing, sports, etc., may have scholarships geared toward students with those hobbies or skills, so it may be worthwhile to narrow your scholarship search down to find those scholarships, too.

Make sure to start looking for scholarships early — devote some time for you and your student to spend searching for applicable scholarships so the process isn’t as intimidating and your student will be able to apply to and possibly win more scholarships.

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