There’s a bounty of free money for college that’s up for grabs if you know how to get it.
Scholarships don’t have to be paid back, which means they’re completely free. By winning scholarships, you may be able to reduce how much loan debt you’ll carry to pay for college.
Scholarships don’t have to be paid back, which means they’re completely free.
Each scholarship will have requirements to apply. You’ll often need letters of recommendation, a resume of scholarly or volunteer accomplishments and an essay tailored to the scholarship.
5 rules of thumb to find a scholarship
Since there are so many scholarships available, it can be a challenge to pick which ones to apply for. Knowing where to look and what to prioritize can help you find the right one for you. Here are five tried-and-true tactics to finding a scholarship.
To be eligible for most federal, state or institutional scholarships and grants, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA.
• Race or ethnicity
• LGBT identity
• Location or community
• Hobbies and interests
• Civic involvement
• An immediate family member’s military status
• Immigration status
Also, factor in special circumstances, such as being a parent, an older or returning student, a GED recipient or a home-schooled student.
You may look for scholarships for students entering certain majors. If you get such a scholarship, you’ll usually need to continue in that course of study to keep the funds.
• Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Scholarships Search Tool
• Talk to your school’s financial aid office
• Check with your high school’s guidance office
• Look for industry organizations related to your field of study
• Search locally at community organizations, local businesses, religious organizations or civic groups
• Inquire about scholarships sponsored by a family member’s employer or your own employer
• Search scholarship databases such as Cappex.com, Scholly, The College Board, or “The Ultimate Scholarship Book”
• Not giving into obvious pressure tactics that push for money or personal information quickly
• Never giving out bank account or credit card numbers to companies that you cannot verify are legitimate with your college or another reputable source
• Never paying a fee, especially to a scholarship organization that guarantees you’ll win a scholarship by handing over money. There are many free scholarship search services available.
If you have too many scholarships on your list, narrow it down to those with smaller niche applicant pools, or ones you can renew each year.
How you’ll receive scholarship funds
The way your scholarship is disbursed will vary. The money may be paid directly to your school and applied like other financial aid — first tuition and fees are covered, then room and board. If there are leftover funds, your school will typically return the money to you to use for other costs, like living expenses.
Alternately, you may receive a check. How you can use the money will usually depend on the strings attached to the scholarship. For example, you may only be able to use the money for tuition. Contact the source of your scholarship for the details.
How you can use the money will usually depend on the strings attached to the scholarship.
How scholarships impact other financial aid
Scholarships can be used to supplement other financial aid, such as grants and work-study, before taking on student loans. But you can receive only as much aid as your school’s cost of attendance. You must let your school’s financial aid office know the total scholarship amount you’re awarded so it is factored into your aid package.
If there’s a gap to fill after scholarships or other free financial aid, you may need to get a loan. Start with federal direct loans before getting a private loan, which offers fewer repayment options or loan forgiveness. If you need a private loan, compare all offerings and rates.