The Best Way to Get Scholarships for College
College: The great gateway to your future. And as if enduring high school, writing your SATs (writing them again!), writing letters of admission, shelling out for applications, and getting accepted wasn’t enough, now you have to pay for it too!
According to the Project on Student Debt, 68% of 2015 bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with student loan debt and their average debt was $30,100 per borrower. In fact, the student debt in the US is about $1.4 trillion. Ouch. According to LendEDU—an online marketplace for student loan refinancing—45% of US college students get no help at all from their parents in paying for school.
SO, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PAY?
Unless you’re a high school All-American, or the next shortstop Sports Hall-of-Famer, you’re going to have to pay for the bulk of your university or college tuition.
The first thing you should do (read: should have done) is study hard and do well in high school. But, it merits mention that the full-ride is a bit of a myth. According to a recent study, less than 20,000 students a year receive a completely free ride to college, and full-time college students at four-year colleges received just 0.3% grants and scholarships enough to cover the full cost of college.
As such, it’s imperative to know the system. There are specific undergraduate, graduate, and PhD scholarships, regional scholarships, scholarships for women, scholarships for minorities and marginalized communities, scholarships for high school seniors, federal grants, as well as full scholarships for international students.
Additionally, it’s important to both familiarize and prepare yourself for the entry process. You thought getting into college was competitive? Well, scholarships are infinitely more so. A recent CBS News report outlined how students should find alternatively supportive ways to pay for school.
According to CBS, over 1.5 million private college scholarships worth over $3.5 billion are distributed annually.
FIND THEM, AND SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM THE FIELD
Give the scholarship sponsor what it wants: A scholarship application often contains the sponsor’s scholarship selection criteria, but dig deeper. Research the scholarship sponsor on the web. Look for the organization’s mission statement, which you’ll often find in the “About Us” section of its website.
Get involved with your community: Students who volunteer enjoy a huge advantage with scholarship sponsors, says Marianne Ragins, who was featured on the cover of Parade Magazine in 1991, one of the most popular issues in the magazine’s history, after winning more than $400,000 in college scholarships. Ragins, who conducts presentations on winning scholarships, says scholarship sponsors are looking for a long-time commitment to volunteering. This bias towards volunteering makes sense since many scholarship providers are nonprofits committed to helping others.
Look professional: Google your name to make sure that you have a professional online presence, advises Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FastWeb and the author of the new book Secrets to Winning a Scholarship. Remove any inappropriate material from Facebook. And don’t use a risqué email account. Keep it boring.
Use a scholarship search engine: Using scholarship search engines will make your job easier.
Don’t ignore the optional questions: When supplying your background on scholarship search engines, answer the optional questions. Addressing these questions can generate about twice as many scholarship matches, Kantrowitz says.
Learn more about scholarship odds: Read this post from CollegeStats.org: “Which College Scholarships are Easy to Get? We Have the Data.”
Apply to every eligible scholarship: It’s a numbers game and even among the most accomplished students, luck is a factor. Don’t ignore the small stuff. Some scholarships worth $1,000 or less may only have 15 or 20 students applying, Ragins says.
Look for essay contests: Students can be lazy and many will skip scholarship contests that require an essay. Applying for these scholarships could increase your odds of success.
Be passionate: When you’re writing a scholarship essay, let your personal voice come through. Include lots of details in your essay that help reveal who you are. It’s usually a good idea to focus on a problem and how you solved it or overcame adversity.
Think local: Ask your high school guidance counselors about local scholarships. Also check bulletin boards at libraries and outside financial aid offices. Local scholarships are going to be easier to win than regional and national ones.