Swimming in Scholarship Money


This year, my estimated cost for college is $0. What's the big secret? Scholarships.

With sky-high and ever-rising tuition costs, it's easy to drown in debt. Scholarships are free money and may help relieve the burden of a costly education. If you're willing to follow a few simple steps and put in some work, it can be extremely worthwhile. Let scholarships keep you afloat and out of debt.

1. Know your sources.

Scholarships can come from a variety of sources. The most common scholarships (besides financial aid) are from schools themselves. Merit scholarships may be large and may require a separate application or interview. Focusing on these may be the most rewarding, since many colleges, like mine, have honors colleges with large scholarships included in admission. Additionally, colleges may give out athletic scholarships. Either way, your best chances for a large scholarship lie with colleges you’re applying to. However, some top schools (namely Ivy Leagues) don’t give out merit money, so only expect what their online estimator calculates (more on that later).

Many companies, unions, and organizations also offer scholarships in varying amounts. There are scholarships for nearly any heritage, hobby, or group, you only have to look! I applied through both of my parents' jobs and received money to cover the cost of books and other fees. Oftentimes, these applications will ask you to write an essay and list a resume.

Warning – there are scholarship scams. You shouldn't have to pay to submit a scholarship application! Use your internet smarts and beware of giving out too much information (like your Social Security or credit card number) for an application.

2. Apply early and often.

Naturally, putting in more applications increases your chances of getting scholarship money. Also, starting early can prevent missing out on early deadlines. This is true with applying to colleges, as well.

3. Swim with a buddy!

Have your friends join in on the fun. Organizations like DoSomething.org offer tons of hands-on and charitable scholarships that you can do with friends. Encourage and help each other. My friends and I edited each other's scholarship essays!

4. Don’t forget about Financial Aid!

While financial aid is technically different from a scholarship, it’s often free money. It is calculated by schools using information from the FAFSA, CSS, and other financial forms. Aid from any particular school can be estimated by using their financial aid calculators on their website. Depending on income, assets, and family breakdown, it’s possible to get anything from a full ride to Harvard (one of my friends did!) to nothing at all after filling out those dreaded yet mandated documents. Even if you are estimated to receive nothing, you still need to fill out these forms and apply for financial aid in case of any sudden changes, like a layoff or other financial hardship.

5. Most importantly, have a life vest.

You very likely will not get all of the scholarships you apply for. So, have a backup plan. Find a public school that offers your major and that you could likely afford. This should be one of your "safety" schools, meaning you're very likely to be admitted.

College will be an adventure, and scholarships can help your journey go smoothly. Remember- start early and plan accordingly. It’s your future!

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