Scholarships are free money for college. Some are big—maybe even covering your entire college costs—but many, many more are local scholarships for smaller amounts that can really add up.
- Start early. Visit your school college counseling office to investigate sources of scholarships. Ask for your high school’s list of the previous year’s scholarship winners, where you can see how your qualifications stack up. Start working to secure letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, or employers at least a month before the application deadline, and be sure to give them clear instructions on how and when letters should be submitted. Be organized: You could even create a spreadsheet with scholarships, requirements, and deadlines.
- Start close to home. Your school and community will provide the best leads. Check with your local community foundations, social and professional clubs, fraternal organizations (Kiwanis, Sertoma, and veteran’s organizations, for example), faith-based organizations, extra-curricular clubs (4-H, community organizations), hospitals, or your parent’s employer.
- Start online. There are a variety of websites featuring extensive lists of scholarships.
- Visit Cappex at cappex.com to find scholarships—many which require essays—including some from corporations like Coca-Cola and Nordstrom, as well as general go-to-college advice.
- Find scholarships, other financial aid and internships from more than 2,200 programs, totaling nearly $6 billion at The College Board, collegeboard.org/scholarship-search.
- FastWeb.com is one of the leading online resources in finding scholarships and also offers solid financial aid and career advice.
- Colleges.niche.com breaks scholarships down into helpful categories, according to location, majors, and even “easy to apply for.”
“If you must take out student loan debt, only take out what you need. You do not have to accept your loan(s) in full. You can work with the financial aid office to accept a partial amount. Start with the loan(s) that has the best terms (for example lowest interest rate, interest not accumulating while enrolled, and/or a grace period after graduation before you have to start paying back the debt) and accept up to just the amount you need.
“Create a budget that includes tuition/fees, housing and meals, books and school supplies, transportation and parking, and any products essential to day-to-day living to help determine how much to take out.”
— Michelle L. Ashcraft, Director of Purdue Promise Student Success Programs