Figuring out how to pay for college is an overwhelming reality for college students and their families. It is the least exciting part of the college application process and causes the most anxiety. Attending a university in the US is expensive, and the cost continues to rise steadily each year. While some students receive federal financial aid or merit-based scholarships from their universities, there is often still a remaining balance that needs to be paid. An often-overlooked option is to apply for outside scholarships. Outside scholarships are funding opportunities that are offered outside of your academic institution or the federal government. These scholarships are awarded by non-profits, private organizations, community groups and corporations and can range from a few hundred dollars to full-tuition. Unlike student loans, scholarships are free money and do not need to be paid back.
As there is no universal application process for these outside scholarships, many families are unsure of where to begin. While finding the scholarship opportunities that are the best match for your student’s unique profile can take time and research, the following tips will get you started:
Start Your Scholarship Search Locally
Often a city’s chamber of commerce, community organizations and places of worship offer funding opportunities. Even your local professional sports teams may provide scholarships. For example, students in Northeast Ohio can apply for a $2,000 award from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Huntington Bank. Don’t be deterred if these scholarships offer smaller dollar amounts than larger competitions. A $500 book scholarship offered by a local garden club is still $500 less that you will need to spend. Local scholarships have fewer applicants than national contests, which increases your chances of securing funding. Your neighborhood library or high school counseling office are great resources to start with to find out about these opportunities.
Think About What Makes You Unique
There are scholarships for students based on many different characteristics such as gender, field of study, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc. For example, young women who aspire to major in aviation can apply for scholarship funds from Women in Aviation International. Young men majoring in music can pursue funding from the Associated Male Choruses of America. Students of Asian or Pacific Islander descent can receive money from the Asian Pacific Fund. Whatever your background and interests, there is a scholarship out there that will fit your profile.
Register for Online Databases
By signing up for free scholarship search tools such as Fastweb or Unigo, you can create a profile to conduct a personalized search for national scholarships. Both sites will allow you to create your profile as a high school freshman, so you can start your search early. These are helpful tools to narrow down the best matches for you but be aware that these sites will share your information with universities. Be prepared for an increase in promotional messages and consider creating an email address just for this purpose.
So, what is the most important thing you can do to obtain an outside scholarship? Apply! There are scholarship funds that sit unallocated every year simply due to a lack of applicants. While it can be difficult to feel motivated after completing the college application process, it will pay off in the end.