By Ryan Laspina
Senior Specialist, American Public University System
Scholarships are the most effective and beneficial way to pay for college expenses (everything from tuition to books and fees). Typically, scholarships do not need to be paid back with interest. Instead, you earn money by continually demonstrating your academic prowess.
Most people think scholarships are only reserved for the best athletes and scholars. In reality, many scholarships wait to be claimed by students from all walks of life. Below are a few tips and facts about scholarships.
1. Scholarships come in all monetary amounts. Some scholarships pay your entire tuition for four years, while others are only worth $100 for one semester. It all depends on the criteria for obtaining the scholarship and who funds it. State-funded scholarships are usually large amounts, but also have stricter criteria for obtaining and maintaining that scholarship. For example, the state of West Virginia offers the Promise Scholarship that pays for most of your tuition each semester. Students must attend a school in West Virginia and maintain a 3.0 GPA to remain eligible for the Promise. Other scholarships may only be worth $100, but all that is required is that you are a vegetarian or a fan of reading (yes, seriously!).
2. Small scholarships are worth your time. There is no cap on the number of scholarships for which you can apply, so the smartest practice is applying for all scholarships for which you qualify. Every penny toward your college expenses helps you in the long run. Take the time to fill out as many scholarship applications as possible.
3. Always pay attention to deadlines. Missing a deadline often eliminates you from consideration for certain scholarships.
4. Never pay for scholarships! If a scholarship organization asks you to send money up front or pay an application fee, it is a scam.
5. Scholarships exist for all grade levels, not just first-time students. If you currently attend college, that does not mean you cannot receive scholarships in the future. Always keep an eye out for new scholarships or scholarships you may have overlooked in the past.
6. How do you find scholarships? There are many different outlets. Talk to the school(s) of your choice and ask them about state-funded scholarships. For smaller, private scholarships, do some online searches (make sure the sources are reputable). A great starting point for scholarship information is Student Scholarships.
It may seem easier to just sign up for Federal Student Aid (FSA) loans, but scholarships are your best route for paying for college expenses. They are essentially free money and are maintained through your merit and scholarship.
There are so many scholarships out there waiting to be claimed. Make sure you do your due diligence and search for as many scholarships as you can.