9 tips to find free money for college

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While bargain hunters will be spending the next few weeks searching for mega holiday shopping deals, savvy higher education shoppers have been on the prowl for their own deals: free money for college.

According to a national study from Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company, and Ipsos, an independent global market research company, scholarships and grants covered 28 percent of college costs in the 2017/18 school year.

There is no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for and there are billions of dollars waiting to be claimed. Scholarships don’t just pay tuition, either — they can help with other college costs, including books and on-campus housing.

“Scholarships are one of the most prevalent funding sources families use to help pay for college,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. Fifty-seven percent of families used them last year.

“Still, about a third of families do not even apply for scholarships, showing that there is still significant opportunity for families to continue to defray the cost of college,” said Julia Clark, senior vice president, Ipsos Public Affairs, in a recent statement.

“The key is knowing where to find them, and how to apply,” added Holler.

You can find and apply for all sorts of scholarships that match your hobbies and interests, skills and activities. There are also scholarship programs geared towards African Americans and other minorities, including the United Negro College Fund, the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program, the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Page Education Foundation.

Sallie Mae has even created its own search tool to help you find your perfect scholarship match. Its Scholarship Search directory lists more than five million scholarships worth up to $24 billion.

With college costs on the rise and billions of dollars waiting to be claimed, what better time than now to start your scholarship search? Read on for nine search tips.

Start early

Students should start applying for scholarships beginning in their junior year of high school and every year in college. Approximately 50 percent of available scholarships are for students already enrolled in college. There are also many scholarships available for graduate school.

Complete the FAFSA

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to not only qualify for $150 billion in financial aid but also scholarships and grants. Schools use the FAFSA to put together financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and it is required for many scholarship applications. Some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds, so the earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better.

Know the requirements

There is no standard deadline or requirement for scholarships. Some require essays — and some don’t. So start early and create a list of requirements and deadlines so you can better plan and manage your scholarship applications.

Take advantage of school counselors and other resources

School counselors can help you plan how to pay for college and should have access to scholarship opportunities — especially local ones. Also, keep your eyes and ears open in your community. You might hear of college scholarship opportunities through your church, your job, or your parents’ jobs.

Take the easy route when possible

Some scholarships awards are as easy as showing up and registering. Sallie Mae, for example, offers a $1,000 monthly sweepstakes for those who sign up for its free college planning tools.

Don’t ever pay for a scholarship

Never pay for scholarships and be wary of “guaranteed” money. Don’t be lured in by sites or organizations that charge a fee to access scholarship applications. School counselors and school financial aid offices can recommend reputable options.

Every dollar counts

Many scholarships may just be for a few hundred dollars, but these can add up and can be used for a variety of college expenses. Apply for as many as possible — you’ll be surprised by how much you can earn.

Highlight your hobbies

Scholarships aren’t just for straight-A students or all-star athletes. There is free money for college for just about any hobby or interest, including awards for left-handed students, gamers, skateboarders, and bakers.

Register for Scholarship Search

Not only can you use Sallie Mae’s online tool to find scholarships that match your needs, you can even set up customized alerts to let you know when new scholarships that match your profile become available and when they’re due. Sallie Mae even has a Graduate School Scholarship Search tool with listings of more than 850,000 graduate school scholarships worth more than $1 billion.


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Information provided, in part, by StatePoint Media.