Who doesn’t love free money, am I right?
Okay, so I firmly believe in working for your money and not being a mooch. But scholarships are where my tune changes. Why? Because people want to give you their money! They have set up funds in order to give you money so you can go to school. How great is that?
So what is the worst thing about scholarships?
Yes, scholarships are competitive. Yes, you’ll most likely have to write an essay, or create a blog post, or take a picture, or whatever it is they require of you. Yes, you’ll probably not get every scholarship you apply for. Yes, you have to find them yourself. And yes, it is worth it.
At one of the local universities here there was a $3,000 scholarship for Occupational Therapy students, but nobody was applying for it. They guessed that students didn’t bother because it wasn’t “that much” money and wasn’t really making a dent. So they took that scholarship and put it towards the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at a local community college. They don’t have a problem with applications for it there. I’m going to throw it out there and say that those grad students were dumb to miss out on that every year. Compared to their total cost of school it may not have seemed like much, but when it comes to loans and interest (which never stops accruing)–every penny counts. 3k is a nice amount to not have to pay back, along with the added interest you wouldn’t have to pay. Blows my mind.
A lot of students don’t really know where to begin. There are lots of scams out there, so it can seem easier to not search for the good ones. It’s not that hard though!
First, search your school. Your school should have a scholarship office or a financial aid office with lots of information for you. There are two kinds to be looking for:
- General school-wide opportunities that you’re automatically considered for when you are admitted. The university I attended had an automatic half tuition scholarship for transfer students if you transferred in with a certain GPA. I didn’t get that one, but after my first year I was eligible for a continuing student scholarship. I also received another university scholarship that I had to apply and write an essay for. Those funds were provided by an alumni couple.I just applied for 21 scholarships at my school all at once. Took about five minutes. There are about 25 more I can apply for, but I need to fill out my new FAFSA and upload it first.
- Department scholarships. These are great because they narrow the field even more. If your program is small, you may have an extra edge in the review process because those on the committee may actually know you. My husband just got a $1,ooo scholarship through his department and his application took about five minutes to complete. There are probably less department scholarships available, but there’s also fewer people trying to get them.
Moral of the story, check your school first!
Second, search scholarship websites. These are scholarships that are made available by companies, agencies, philanthropists, etc. outside of your school. They can be need-based or not. Some give you money for grades, talents, geographic location, descendancy, ethnicity, drawings, contests, single-mom status, returning student status, and pretty much whatever else people with money want to give it to you for. I once saw a scholarship for women over 6 feet tall. My measly 5’10” frame disqualified me! These are pretty cool because you don’t have to be a genius or come from a low-income family to get them, which is who it sometimes felt like all the school wanted to give money to. There are a lot of scholarship search websites, but these two are respected and a great start and will give you tons of options.
Last of all, and probably most important: watch out for scams. Unfortunately there are a lot of jerks out there who want to scam college students. Because students aren’t broke enough already. Jerks. Anyways, I’m always amazed that scammers can be so obvious, but people still fall for it, so pay attention to a few things to help you recognize a scholarship scam.
- Application fees. No way, Jose!
- You did a search of the company and can’t tell if it’s real or not.
- They want your financial info. Nobody needs that.
- No requirements. They need a reason to pick you. It can be that you’re super tall, but there needs to be something.
- It feels wrong. You may not be able to “just know” with all of the scams, but trust your instincts.
There is SO much information about scholarships and this won’t be the only time we talk about them, but this is a good start. Scholarship season is happening now, but it’ll start winding down as many scholarship deadlines will pass before the end of this semester. So get applying!