The question of how to finance your college or graduate school experience can be daunting at first, especially when you find yourself wondering where the funds will come from.
Applying for scholarships is a step all students should take to help limit the amount of loans they'll need. Every scholarship earned reduces the amount of student loan debt you'll have, so it's important that you don't overlook scholarships as a viable and important step in planning for college.
While the search for scholarships is only one step in the college financing process, it's a step that is under your control and largely dependent on the effort you put toward winning scholarship awards.
Here are 10 sources of scholarships, plus tips on applying for and securing them.
1. A high school or TRiO counselor
There are often scholarships available to students graduating from your school or from your local community. Scholarship opportunities are often posted in your guidance counselor's office. Don't be shy — your guidance counselor might also know of other opportunities available to graduates from your school, so setting up a meeting is an integral part of your scholarship search. In addition, if you qualify, TRiO counselors provide assistance in finding scholarships for low-income and disadvantaged students.
2. Your college's financial aid office
Some colleges automatically enroll you for scholarships when you submit your financial aid information. If they don't, or you want to be considered for additional scholarships and grants, consult your college's financial aid office to see what scholarships you're eligible for and how to apply for them.
Since financial aid officers are experts in helping students win scholarships, their advice is valuable in finding scholarships and other financial aid opportunities. Your college's financial aid officer is a great resource in helping you to convey your experience as you apply for specific scholarships, and can even let you know when there are unclaimed scholarships and funds that you might be eligible for, or scholarships available only for students of your major.
3. The U.S. Department of Labor's free scholarship search tool
The U.S Department of Labor's free scholarship search tool allows you to search by certain filters, including keyword, type of award, level of study and location to find scholarships that apply specifically to you. The search tool currently lists over 8,300 scholarships and grants for students pursuing bachelor's and graduate degrees, and even lists some awards for those in associate or professional development programs.You can even find scholarships available only to students of your intended major or focus. The tool makes your award search easier and less time-consuming.
4. Federal agencies
Many federal agencies offer scholarships in specific fields, especially those that have a high demand for professionals. Some federal scholarships are offered through schools, whereas others are offered from the sponsoring agency or partner. You can find available scholarships by searching online or contacting the federal agency that operates in your desired field. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration lists a number of scholarships available to students interested in aviation by companies in the aviation industry.
Performing an online search for a term like "federal scholarships teachers" leads to the TEACH Grant federal grant. For the healthcare field, searching for the term "federal scholarships healthcare" links to scholarship and loan repayment plans from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Some scholarships awarded by federal agencies and their partners are based on your financial need which is measured by processing your FAFSA. Other federal scholarships are awarded based on your choice of major alone.
Federal agencies and their partners sometimes require students to demonstrate their intent to work in relevant industries. In the aviation industry, for example, scholarships may require 100 hours of flight time to be eligible, whereas those pursuing a nursing scholarship from a federal agency or its partner may be required to earn a certain amount of credit hours per semester. As part of the scholarship's application requirements, you may have to write a letter of motivation that explains your professional intent.
5. Your state grant agency
Talking to a guidance counselor, financial aid officer or researching online can lead to a trove of scholarships and grants available to residents of a state who will be going to college in the same state. Searching for scholarships and grants available to residents of your state will link you to your state's department of education and other state-based education agencies.
Most states tend to offer five or more scholarship or grant packages. The websites linked to from this search tool will display a list of each scholarship and grant available to residents of your state, often with the requirements of applying and how to do so.
6. Your library's reference section
Online resources might be quicker to access and easier to use than your local library, but this oft-forgotten resource should not be overlooked. Librarians, who are often in-tune with the community they serve, are extremely knowledgeable and can help you narrow your search down, guide you towards information that can help you write better essays and applications and direct you to scholarships and grants you might not be able to find through any other source.
"Libraries offer not just advice, but programs and workshops that teens should keep an eye out for," says Ryan McCauley, a learning center assistant in a Rhode Island library. We have periods throughout the year where we all focus on specific things, such as Money Smart Week, where libraries help citizens of all demographics and income levels understand all aspects of personal finance, including how to find and win scholarships.
7. Local organizations and businesses
Businesses and organizations, both religious and secular, often seek to give back to their communities by providing local students with a scholarship. Your library may have a listing of community groups that award scholarships, but you can also seek out scholarships by going online or calling local businesses and groups in your area.
Since these scholarships are offered by local organizations and groups, it's usually much easier for you to win such a scholarship compared to one in which thousands of prospective students across the country have applied. Religious organizations may require you to be an active participant in faith-based activities, while putting in a number of community service hours may separate you from the pack in the eyes of local businesses.
8. Professional associations
Many professional associations allow student members to join for a low or even free membership fee. Joining an association or organization in your desired field comes with a number of perks, including access to exclusive scholarships you couldn't otherwise apply for. Additionally, you can also build your network of contacts.
Professional associations often wish to see a commitment to the local community, accomplished by volunteering for local organizations or dedicating time to community service. Extra-curricular activities, especially those related to the industry in which the association represents, go a long way towards increasing the likelihood of you winning a scholarship. A professional association wants to support those who will contribute to the association and the industry it's linked to, so demonstrating your interest in working in that specific industry shows the association you're a worthy investment for its scholarship and grant offerings.
You can find professional associations related to your career path by simply searching, for example, engineer professional association. A search will lead you to a number of associations available to professionals and students in the given industry. For example, prospective engineers can join the National Society of Professional Engineers, which makes you eligible for NSPE scholarships.
9. Ethnicity-based organizations
Ethnicity-based organizations may have fewer applicants for a scholarship, greatly increasing your chances of being awarded one. Though ethnic background isn't always a strict requirement to be awarded an ethnicity-based scholarship, you may sometimes be asked to provide documentation of descent and heritage, as is the case for some Native American organizations.
James P. Yates, chairman of the Soul 2 Seoul Scholarship Foundation, said, "Recipients of the S-2-S award are self-driven students who are active in promoting unity, justice and friendship among the diverse peoples of their community, however wide that community may be."
There are need-based and merit-based scholarships available, as well as athletic, and many such scholarships are available to non-residents and non-citizens of the U.S. According to Yates, "In their applications, students would be well-advised to accentuate the impact of events and conditions on their lives — not just mention those conditions."
10. Your employer or your parent's employers
Information about scholarships provided by an employer can generally be found in a handbook, the break room or from a manager or human resources representative. Any of these sources can guide you on beginning the application process or help answer your questions about what the criteria is to qualify.
Talk to your employer's HR department, or have your parents talk to theirs, to see if an employer-sponsored scholarship package or tuition reimbursement benefit is offered. Depending on your choice of major, additional awards or grants might be available if your pursuit of higher education is related to the field in which you're already working or will otherwise benefit the company.