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College Scholarships - What You Need to Know

finances outside scholarships scholarships Feb 02, 2024

Paying for college can feel overwhelming, but receiving scholarships can make the cost of college more manageable. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an athlete or a student with a 4.0 GPA to qualify for a scholarship. What you do need is the time to research the many scholarships that are available. That is why the process of searching and applying for scholarships, ideally, should be started during your first year of high school.


Many colleges offer a variety of scholarships including merit-based scholarships or scholarships specifically for new students. Institutional scholarships come directly from the university that you applied to. These can benefit prospective students who don't qualify for student loans. Institutional scholarships can be found on the university’s website under the financial aid department. Many colleges require the FAFSA to be filed in order to receive institutional scholarships.


Scholarship opportunities should be explored before you consider taking out federal or private student loans. While an institutional scholarship is considered a grant that you don’t need to pay back, if you receive a private scholarship you are required to report it to the college you plan on attending and it may affect other aid you receive from the college. Students can also use free scholarship matching services to search for the awards. Some of the services include Fastweb and College Board’s Big Future. During your search, you’ll want to consider what sets you apart. For example, if you are the first person in your family to attend college, search the following keywords: “first generation student”. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students should ask both their high school counselor and the college’s financial aid office about scholarship opportunities. Institutions to research are foundations, religious and community organizations, businesses, and civic groups. Professional organizations and associations related to your field of interest, ethnicity-based organizations, and your employer or your parents’ employers are other options to explore.


Each scholarship will have its own unique requirements and deadlines. For instance, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards up to $20,000 annually. In 2023, they had 91,000 applicants, and at the end of a multi-phase process, they chose 150 recipients. To be considered for a large scholarship, you will most likely need to write an essay, obtain a recommendation letter, and possibly interview. On the flip side, there are scholarships with smaller awards, and the application process is less time-consuming. Did you know there is a Vegetarian Video Scholarship and an American Fire Sprinkler Association Scholarship? If you have the time and energy to research and apply for scholarships, it may be worth it financially.


The U.S. Department of Labor also has a Scholarship Search Database. The website matches your background profile against a large database of scholarships, showing you only those for which you are eligible. Remember, you should never have to pay to apply for scholarships. If you receive a letter in the mail or an email saying you have been selected for a scholarship that you never applied to, that is a red flag. Never give your information to a company that claims they can complete the FAFSA for a processing fee. These are all signs of a scam. If you are unsure, research the company before providing any of your personal information.


When applying for awards, make sure to understand your colleges displacement policies. Displacement policies are activated when a student receives an outside or private scholarship, which then results in a reduction in other forms of college aid. It is practiced by colleges and universities across the country. Though some states have banned scholarship displacement, it is important to check local laws. Use caution when reviewing the scholarship terms and conditions to make sure you understand what the issuer requires and under what circumstances you would have to repay the award.


Other important considerations - Is the scholarship renewable? Is there a minimum GPA stipulation? Do you receive the money in one lump sum, or is it sent directly to the university? Read the terms thoroughly. Parents and their teens should have an honest discussion about the cost of college as early as freshman year of high school. College cost calculators will give an estimate ofthe cost of attending each specific college. It is helpful if teens know the amount that has been saved for their education, the feasibility of student loans, and the possibility of receiving scholarships in order to help determine if the colleges of their choice are affordable.



Photo by Bich Tran:

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