The average cost of tuition at 4-year public and private nonprofit universities is at an all time high. Of course, this probably does not come as a surprise to any prospective collegiate; countless think pieces and in-depth reports have publicized the unwelcome facts: over 59 percent of graduates are burdened with student loans; Americans borrow over 100 billion dollars for student loans each year; the average price of tuition for a 4-year private university is well over 30,000 dollars annually; and so on.
Because so much has already been said about the state of U.S. higher education, I won’t belabor these bleak statistics any further. Initially, I wanted this series to investigate why tuition is increasing so dramatically, but after some consideration, I decided that, interesting as the “why” may be, it wasn’t really going to help students reduce college expenses. Instead, I want to present some options that may help ameliorate the financial burden of American higher education, the first one being Scholarships.
Other than winning the lottery, scholarships are about the closest thing to “free money” out there. However, scholarships rarely just fall into one’s lap, so here are some resources for finding and applying for scholarships both large and small.
When looking for scholarships, start your search with one of the many scholarship search engines available. Google-searching “scholarship search engine” gives a long list of resources, but I want to provide brief assessments of some of the biggest ones to aid your search:
Like many scholarship search engines, you must create an account to get started. Although it takes a few minutes to set up, Fastweb really does supply a huge number of college and scholarship resources. I think of this site as the Amazon.com of college resources in both design and navigation: much of your profile is devoted to scholarships the site thinks you’ll like, and each scholarship page provides links to similar scholarships. However, the site is also a bit flashy and ad-heavy, which can be distracting on an academic-centric site such as this.
Assessment: Lots of options and high customization make this a great resource for seeking out and sorting scholarships, but the interface may be a bit overwhelming at first.
This site does not require you to create an account to start your scholarship search, so it’s a great option for those looking to test the waters before beginning a full-fledged scholarship search. But you can also apply search filters (such as age and GPA) to obtain a manageable number of results. The strongest feature of this search engine (other than the fact that it links you to an astounding number of scholarships) is its clean and simple navigation: no ads; no popups; just a long list of scholarships, each of which lists the amount of money awarded and the application deadline. And if you see something you like, you can create a Chegg account and save your favorites for later.
Assessment: If you want to start searching right away and prefer a stripped-down site over a flashy one, then Chegg.com is for you.
This search engine comes across as a hybrid of the two that I’ve previously discussed: like Fastweb, this site requires you to create a profile before searching for scholarships, so it allows for immediate and thorough customization. But like Chegg, its navigation and design are simple and straightforward.
Assessment: If you’re willing to put a bit of time into creating a comprehensive profile, this is an invaluable resource that combines many of the strengths of its competitors.
Although the Internet contains a multitude of scholarship resources, there are also many scholarship opportunities in the real world. In addition to searching online, look around your community. Local nonprofits, service clubs (such as the Kiwanis or Rotary International), and small business may offer small scholarships that will have significantly less competition than many of those found online. And finally, consider having your parents aid your scholarship search. Many companies offer scholarship opportunities for the children of their employees. Like those found in your community, these scholarships are often less competitive than those advertised online.
Taking the Next Step
Once you’ve found your favorite scholarship search engine(s) and have located some promising scholarships, the hard work of actually applying begins. While there is no shortcut or loophole that will guarantee you’ll be swimming in scholarships, there are some steps you can take to improve your odds:
- Cast a Wide Net
Being awarded scholarships is a numbers game. Since you don’t know how many others are applying for any one scholarship, your best bet is to apply for as many as possible. After all, one scholarship that you think you have a good shot at getting might have 1,000 applicants, whereas one you’re considering dismissing because it seems boring or difficult might only have 10 applicants.
- Look for Scholarships with Essay Requirements
These scholarships usually require more work and thought than others, and that’s why you should apply for them. Most students want to do as little work as possible, so they avoid applying for scholarships with writing requirements. Thus, pursuing these potentially onerous applications essentially guarantees less competition.
- There Are No Optional Questions
Applications with blank or incomplete fields (even if they’re marked “Optional”) are significantly less likely to be awarded scholarship prizes.
- Be Good to Do Well
Scholarships are awarded on the basis of character as often as academic achievement, so make sure you present yourself accordingly. Make sure your social media doesn’t include incriminating photos or posts. When relating a personal accomplishment, describe how it helped you grow, or better yet, how it helped others. And most importantly, get involved in your community: volunteer, or start a school club. Not only does this look great on college and scholarship applications, but it is also genuinely rewarding to help others.
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