September 30, 2021
College is expensive, but what if there was a way to get free money for college? Well, there is! Scholarships and grants are monetary awards (free money) you can use toward college tuition and expenses. You may qualify for scholarships and grants by applying to the organization offering them and they generally do not need to be repaid. They are offered by a wide variety of organizations, the federal government, and many colleges themselves.
Scholarships tend to be merit-based and can be based on test scores, your high school grades, your athletic skills or other talents you have. Scholarships may be based on your state of residence, your race, ethnicity or affiliation with a certain religious organization.
Grants, on the other hand, tend to be need based, and are awarded to students and families who don’t have the money to pay for college.
Here are some tips for finding and applying for scholarships to maximize the amount of free money you might receive.
1. Start Researching Early!
Start researching scholarships early. National scholarship databases, discussed below, allow you to register and research scholarships as early as your freshman year. Scholarships have varying rules and deadlines on when to apply, and it helps to gather the information well in advance so you don’t miss out!
2. Where do I look for scholarships and grants?
Many scholarship providers do not advertise their scholarships, so you will need to do some investigation to find information about them. This can be a lot of work, but it can be worth a lot of money as well!
A great place to start is to read up on federal grants and aid at studentaid.gov. Filling out your FAFSA (discussed below) will be key to unlocking any potential federal grants.
State and local scholarships tend to be less competitive than national scholarships, and it’s a good bet your high school guidance counselor’s office will have a list of scholarships or grants available to students in your area. For Texas residents, CollegeForAllTexans.com has great information about Texas grants and scholarships.
If you’ve already been accepted into a college, or are in the process of applying to multiple colleges, or already in college, almost all schools have institutional grants and scholarships, so be sure to check your school’s financial aid website or visit the school financial aid office!
Ask friends and family! Your friends or family members may know about scholarships offered by the companies where they work and they can help you gather more information about applying.
There are also numerous websites which catalog additional scholarships which your high school or college may not mention. These sites allow you to register to help match you to scholarships you may be eligible to win based on your profile information, such as choice of degree and year of attendance. Some scholarship sites are free and some do charge a fee, so be aware of that as you’re doing your research. Some national scholarship sites include:
3. Look for scholarships offered only for your area of study.
Many industries and professional organizations offer scholarships specific for their field. Whether you’re studying pre-med, theater, geology, or engineering, there are likely numerous scholarships designed specifically for people studying in these fields. Applying for scholarships limited to your field of study can increase your chances of an award because of the smaller number of applicants. Additionally, many scholarship applications ask for an application essay, and writing about a field of study you’re passionate about may help you create a better essay.
4. Make a plan.
As you come across scholarships, make a list and collect the information about each one. Keep a list of deadlines and any specific requirements such as essays that might take additional time to complete.
5. Apply Early.
Don’t wait until the deadline to apply. Timelines for scholarships vary, but you may be able to apply for certain scholarships as much as a year before you even plan to start school. Apply early! And apply often! You can continue to apply for scholarships throughout your college career. Some scholarships are only offered to students already attending college!
6. When in doubt, apply anyway!
Don’t sell yourself short! Some scholarships have grade or score standards that are required in order to be eligible. Some scholarship criteria, however, are not as specific or are judged based on multiple criteria. Unless you know you will be excluded based on specific criteria, go ahead and apply! You never know if you might be one of just a few applicants, or if your essay will win over the scholarship committee.
7. Don’t skimp on the essay!
Many organizations providing scholarships and even some grants may require you to write an essay to help them decide who will receive the award. Take some time to write a compelling essay free from grammatical and spelling errors. Then, enlist teachers, mentors, family members or high school counselors to review your essay for any corrections or pointers! Your essay may be worth several thousand dollars, so make sure you nail it!
8. Fill out your FAFSA!
Don’t overlook this critical step! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application filed with the federal government which will help the colleges to which you’re applying determine what student aid you are eligible to receive. Register and complete the FAFSA as soon as it is available, which is usually October 1st of the year before the start of the term for which you’re applying. See this article for more information on FAFSA deadlines.
Certain financial aid is widely available and can be automatic if you and your family meet certain criteria, but only if you fill out your FAFSA!
Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants are federal grants that you may qualify to receive based on your FAFSA application. Schools also use this information to determine state and institutional aid so be sure to file the FAFSA as soon as you can, as this aid is limited and is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Once your FAFSA has been processed, you will receive an award letter from the colleges where you have been accepted. The award letter will list any scholarships or grants that you’re eligible to receive at that college. Remember that just because your award letter lists a scholarship or grant does not mean that your job is finished! Talk to the financial aid office to find out what additional applications or forms you’ll need to complete to receive these awards.
9. Don’t just apply for your freshman year!
Many scholarships are available for all four years of college. If you’ve gotten off to a late start and missed scholarship opportunities for your freshman year, there are still many scholarships you can receive during subsequent years.
Free money is out there. Just ask for it!
There are literally tens of thousands of different scholarships and grants awarded every year in the US. If you need some help paying for college, do your research and start applying!
Brazos is part of a group of Texas nonprofit companies dedicated to college affordability. In fact, we’re one of the best kept secrets in Texas! We’ve been helping students and parents finance their college education since 1975, and our companies together are the largest nonprofit student loan group in the country! Helping make college affordable has been our mission for over 40 years!