Scholarships 101: Your Guide to Finding Money for School

Figuring out how financial aid works and which options are available to you is an important part of preparing for college. There are many scholarships available and understanding how they work will help you to make sure you don’t miss out on any financial aid you could be receiving. 

What Are Scholarships?

A scholarship is a type of financial aid that is awarded to a student to help them pay for their education. A college scholarship is designed to help students cover their costs while they’re at college. There are different kinds of scholarships with different requirements and strings attached.

There are millions of scholarship dollars that go unclaimed every year. It’s worth putting in the effort to search for all available funds.

Do You Have To Pay Back Scholarships?

Unlike some other forms of financial aid or student aid, a scholarship does not need to be paid back. A scholarship is not a loan and therefore does not need to be paid back. Some scholarships may require you to work in a certain field or for a specific company after you graduate though. Each scholarship has specific terms so that you know exactly where and for how long you will be required to work after graduation. The vast majority of scholarships for college are just free money though and don’t have any strings attached.  

What Are The Different Types Of Scholarships?

There are many different scholarships available and they all have different terms and requirements. Some college scholarships might provide a large amount of money over a few years, while others only offer a small, one-time payment. You can find scholarships that can be awarded based on merit, like athletic or academic achievement, while others might be need-based. 

Understanding the different types of scholarships, grants and student aid that are available can help you in your scholarship search. The process can seem overwhelming, but having a clear picture of the types of scholarships available will help you find scholarship opportunities that are a good match for your situation. 

Merit-Based Scholarships

Many colleges and universities award scholarships to students based on merit. Scholarships that reward academic or athletic achievements are well known, but there are also many scholarships available for students who show exceptional ability in other areas like the arts or community service. Local businesses may also offer scholarships to students pursuing a degree in a particular field.

Merit scholarships are often offered directly by schools that want to attract and retain talented students. They are seldom federally or state-funded, but you can also find private scholarships and employer grants.

Need-Based Scholarships

There are many funding options available to students who can show that they are in need of financial aid. Almost all federal and state aid is determined based on the financial aid that the student requires. High school and college students can apply to receive these college scholarships. Examples of these types of grants are the Pell Grant and FSEOG, which are both forms of federal student aid.

Scholarships Based On Other Criteria

There are so many scholarships available that it’s hard to categorize them neatly. Private scholarships can set their own terms and sometimes award scholarships based on unusual criteria.

Field or Career

These scholarships are commonly structured to promote a certain field of study or career. For example, it’s not uncommon to find scholarships offered by companies to address skills shortages or private scholarships which encourage students to study in a field that benefits society like nursing, social work, or science.

Ethnicity Or Culture

Some scholarships are awarded to students of a particular ethnicity or culture. Even if you qualify for a merit or needs-based scholarship, it’s worth sifting through the different scholarship opportunities available. A bit of time and perseverance could make a big difference to the amount of money you can raise to pay for your college education and drastically reduce the cost of your student loan. 

Weird and Wacky

There’s a scholarship for anything bizarre, unusual, or unique you can think of. There are scholarships for left-handed people, red-headed people, tall people, short people, or even people who have the best escape plan in the event of a zombie apocalypse hitting your town.

How Do You Apply?

The application process can feel daunting. Applying for scholarships can be tedious and there is no guarantee that you will be successful. Applying usually involves submitting forms and supporting documents. Your high school or college’s financial aid office can help you find and apply for scholarships that you qualify for. 

If you’re applying for federal grants, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before you can start applying for any sort of federal student aid.

Can You Apply For More Than One?

Yes, and you probably should. College is expensive and you’ll likely end up using a mix of the various financial aid options which are available to you. Most college students end up using a scholarship, savings, and loans to pay for their college education.

Applying for financial aid is hard work and the admin can be a bit overwhelming. As you go through the scholarship search and then the application process, keep reminding yourself that a scholarship is free money. It’s worth the effort to keep your savings and avoid debt. The good news is that the more you apply for scholarships the easier it gets.

When Should You Apply For Scholarships?

You can apply for scholarships and grants while you are still in high school and during your time at college. Many college scholarships offer a one-time payment or are only awarded for a year at a time. You need to be applying for scholarships for each year that you are in college. 

Almost all grants and scholarships have a deadline for applications. Make sure you know when the deadlines are and get your application in well before the deadline to avoid any last-minute panic or misunderstandings.

Start Saving Now

It’s never too late to start saving for college. Obviously, the sooner you start, the more money you’ll be able to save. Every little bit counts. If you have extra money that you can set aside, it can easily be saved in a 529 savings program. 

A great way to boost your savings is to sign up for a rewards program like Upromise. Upromise gives you rewards as you go about your normal tasks like shopping and eating out. The rewards can then be transferred into an eligible 529 account and used for college tuition expenses. 

Upromise also has a scholarship program where participants in the rewards program are entered to win up to $529 every month to be added to their 529 savings account.

Every bit that you can save or be awarded in the form of a bursary or grant goes a long way to keeping your debt down and making your college years a little easier.

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