College Funding FAQs
Need a scholarship? The rising cost of education has made finding scholarships, grants, or other sources of college financial aid essential for almost all students. Odds are you will need money for college from some outside source. Even public universities and junior colleges, once the safe haven for middle class and lower income families, are becoming too expensive for students without some type of aid package. The good news is that more financial assistance is available than ever, and nearly all students are eligible for significant aid. A logical, well-organized search can go a long way toward meeting your financial needs.When to start?
You should begin considering schools and plotting a funding search no later than your Junior year in high school. You must look at schools early so you can estimate costs. Finding a scholarship or grant can be a lengthy process. There are simply too many prospects to sort through quickly. Just as important, it will be impossible to meet all deadlines if you what until your senior year. Remember, winning a scholarship involves more than just submitting your name. Some of the best awards require lengthy applications, essays, letters of recommendation, and even personal interviews. None of these can be done on the fly and will require preparation time. The longer you wait, the more opportunities you will miss.
A few essentials to begin with:
Besides scouting things out during your Junior year, you should as arrange to take the SAT and/or ACT. It is a good idea to do this early enough to schedule a retake if necessary. Scoring as high as you are capable of should be a priority. See our test preparation page for advice on planning for these tests. Your search for scholarships-or even colleges-will no go far without these scores. The same can be said for the The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Submit this as early as possible even if you don't believe you are eligible for federal college financial aid. You will need this to apply for all sorts of other financial aid offers.
What aid is available?
Student Loans-Most students can pay for college with federal or private student loans, which can be obtained at low interest rates.
Grants-The Federal government is the largest source of aid. The Pell grant and others are linked to income, so not everyone is eligible. State governments and individual schools have there own programs, which may or may not have an income requirement.
Scholarships-Billions of dollars in scholarships are available with a wide range of eligibility requirements. You can win a financial awards based on need, merit, minority status, special skills, career choice, and many other variables. Most people have a good chance of winning some scholarship--if they can find it. But with tens of thousands to sort through it's not a quick or easy process.
Don't believe the claims that many scholarships go unclaimed each year. This is simply not the case. However, lesser known scholarships are certainly less competitive, so making your search as broad as possible greatly increases your chances of winning something.
Internships and Fellowships-This is another great source of financial aid, particularly for graduate students. These often entail a work assignment or part time job, but the free tuition and stipend that usually come with them make it well worth the effort. You can find many listed on the Internet, but it is also essential to inquire at your school of choice directly.
Do I have be an A+ student to win a Scholarship?
No, but you do need to be able to distinguish yourself from other students. Even scholarships that are reserved for those with great financial need are awarded competitively. Your high school GPA should be at least a "B," and your SAT and/or ACT scores should also be above average. Of course, the higher the better. For example, if your GPA is in the top 10% of your class, you will have a great advantage over most applicants.
Whether you excel academically or not, outside activities and talents can also be crucial. Participation in clubs and activities will highlight your interests. Even better, serving as an officer in such a club demonstrates leadership--a quality that colleges highly value. Many schools are looking for a diverse student body, so if you can play a musical instrument, have artistic skills, or some other worthy talent, make sure to provide evidence of this in your application.
If you feel that your high school record is just not good enough, consider attending a community college for a year or two. Success on this level may not erase the mistakes you made in high school, but this can convince four-year institutions that you have now become a serious student. And since community colleges are much less expensive than universities, you will save money too.
How do I find these awards?
The Internet is perhaps the best tool for finding the right award for you. At the very least, try a quality scholarship search engine such as those listed in our free guide. A regular Internet search can also turn up many other prospects. It is important to note that there is no single repository of all scholarships, so a single, or even several, web searches will miss many opportunities.
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