Scholarships: Why and How You Should Apply

Now that I’ve been out of college for some time, there are some things I look back on and wish I did differently. I try not to have regrets, but I think it’s only human nature to think about past choices and analyze how you could’ve done things differently. It’s actually important to do this in order to learn and grow.

One of the things I wish I had done when I was first getting ready for college, and even while I was there, is apply for scholarships. Now, I’m sure you hear it all from your school and from your parents, so this isn’t meant to be a lecture. I know at this point in your life, it’s the last thing you need. Take it as advice from one millennial to another (even though I hate that term and the stereotypes that come along with it).

As a high school senior or even a transfer student, the only thing you can think about is finally being at your dream school. Your mind isn’t in the right place to think about what’s going to happen after graduation and you don’t really have the experience to know what being a recent college graduate entails. And even while you are there, you just want to have fun, make great memories and kick butt in your classes. But, if your experience is like most, although it’s an amazing part of your life, college goes by in the blink of an eye. And, like most, you’ll probably graduate with student loan debt and an annoying student loan payment that you must pay every single month. And before you know it, you’re 25 years old, talking to people like a grandma, sitting on a rocking chair on the porch telling the grandkids about the things they should do so they don’t struggle the same way she did.

I remember when I officially decided to go to Emerson College. My mom asked me, “Are you prepared to make these payments when you graduate?” I thought, hello, do you have no faith, Mother? Everything will be fine, how much could they really be? Well 6 months after graduation when my grace period was over, I (no exaggeration) wanted to puke when I realized just how much I had to pay back.

Scholarships can really alleviate some of the stress and the extremely sensitive gag reflex that comes along with the cost of college. Scholarships can range from a couple hundred dollars, to tens of thousands of dollars, or even the entire cost of your tuition. A $500 scholarship might not seem like a lot, but it is something, and trust me when I say that anything counts. These days there are so many scholarships out there and while the whole application process might seem daunting, it’s worth it when you have a little less to pay off in the long run.

Unlike unsubsidized and subsidized loans that you get with Federal Financial Aid, scholarships don’t have to be paid back. It’s literally FREE money for you to go to college. Take advantage. Yes, you have to possibly write essays and fill out lengthy applications, but it is what it is. Trust me, I wish I wasn’t lazy and just sucked it up and did it.

So once you put things into perspective and decide that you do actually want to take the step and research or apply for scholarships, where do you begin?

Some scholarships are based on your grades, the sports you play, or clubs or organizations you’re involved with. There are even scholarships for people of a certain ethnicity. Your parents’ employer or your own employer might also offer college scholarships. And, if you’re in the military, there are scholarship opportunities available specifically for you.

I held back from going after scholarships because I didn’t think I qualified for any. I know now that I could’ve tried a little harder and more than likely, I would’ve found some I could’ve applied for. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll actually get awarded, but it’s always worth a shot.

Don’t know where to look? Try a simple Internet search for scholarships in your area or scholarships with criteria that you meet.

These websites also provide great information on scholarships:

Thae Federal Student Aid website includes a great list of free resources for you to find scholarships:

  • The financial aid office at a college or career school
  • A high school or TRIO counselor
  • The U.S. Department of Labor’s FREE scholarship search tool
  • Federal agencies
  • Your state grant agency
  • Your library’s reference section
  • Foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses or civic groups
  • Organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest
  • Ethnicity-based organizations
  • Your employer or your parents’ employers

Whatever scholarships you do apply for, make sure you know all of the application documents that are required and that you know and meet the application deadline. Every scholarship application process is different, so it’s important that you stay informed of all the details and terms for each.

It’s also important that you avoid scams and fraudulent scholarship or college aid services out there. Common scam scholarships require an application fee or an amount you must pay up front. You may also receive a notification that you’ve been granted a scholarship you didn’t apply for, and you must send money to cover fees and/or taxes before they can deliver your prize. Fraudulent sponsors may also send you a counterfeit check for more than the scholarship amount and require that you send the reimbursement back to them. There are also services that promise assistance with finding a scholarship for a fee. They promise you a money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work out, but then just take your money and never contact you again.

In general, it’s best to be cautious of any kind of fee associated with a scholarship application, scholarships that guarantee you’ll be awarded, scholarships that are open to anybody with no specific criteria that should be met, unsolicited awards, grammatical and spelling errors in the materials or requests for personal information that aren’t necessary for a scholarship application, like your financial account numbers or Social Security number. It’s important to never give out your personal information, never respond to unsolicited offers and always trust that if you feel something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.

We all know that college is super important to achieving your goals in the future. It’s proven that people with a college degree make more money in their lifetimes than people without one, and people who go to college are more likely to advance in their career faster. Going to college is a given, so it’s all about managing the cost of it and doing what you can to lessen the price.

If you go into college already motivated to pay it off as fast as you can, you will definitely be way better off than you will be if you have the “I’ll deal with it when I’m out” mindset. College lasts four years. Your student loan lasts 10-20 years. You’re stuck paying off your student loan way longer than you are in college. Do what you can now to make the future easier.

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