High School Series Part 2 – Applying for Financial Aid and Scholarships
December 30, 2013

Today is part two in our series for high school seniors preparing for college next year. In Part 1, we discussed college costs and today we’ll look at financial aid and “free” money for college. Grants and scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for college because it won’t take cash out of your pocket or force you to take out student loans.

The first step to getting college paid for is to complete your FAFSA – this is a prerequisite for consideration for many financial aid offerings and must be done unless you’re prepared to write a check to cover the whole cost of college at the highest sticker price (and who’s going to do that?). Once you’ve knocked out your FAFSA, it’s time to get serious about applying for other forms of financial aid you won’t have to pay back.

Applying for Grants

Grants can come from a variety of sources – from federal to state to ones driven by your college. Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are both need-based and are financed by the federal government. Most schools participate in the Pell Grant program, but not all in the FSEOG program. If you have great financial need, you may do better with schools that offer both.

States also issue grants that are either need-based or based on a certain circumstance. Some grants are contingent on keeping your grades high while in school. Some grants are earmarked for women and minorities. Some states offer grants for those who grew up in the foster care system, have disabilities or are pursuing a career in a high need field like nursing or STEM teaching.

Applying for Scholarships

Scholarships are free money given by the government, schools, businesses and private organizations. Low-cost and free services like Fastweb can help you find scholarships that fit your circumstances, but this is not a complete compendium. This is where you need to get busy and do some research – check if your parents’ (or grandparents and other relatives) companies offer scholarships.

Applying for scholarships is a smart strategy

Finding scholarships requires diligence
Image source: BNet.com

If you work, check with your employer – Chick-fil-A and other companies offer scholarships to good employees. Check with your prospective college(s), local civic groups and any organizations your family may belong to (DAR, UCD, Kiwanis, Jaycees, etc.) The more scholarships you apply for, the better your odds of finding money for school you won’t have to pay back.

Scholarship Essays

Some scholarships will ask for an essay and some ask for just a few paragraphs plus documents. Having a well written core essay can help cut back on writing time. You can make the process more efficient by compiling a list of the scholarships you want to apply for and the subject matter of the requested essay (person that inspires you most, what you want to be when you grow up, if you could meet a famous historical person…) and then sort them by requested topic.

While you shouldn’t submit the exact same essay to more than one scholarship, you can repurpose and draw on the content to minimize your essay-writing workload. Although word length and other characteristics will vary, drawing on well-written content you’ve already composed is a smart use of your time. Also check to see who administers and judges the scholarships to be sure you’re not submitting similar essays for multiple scholarships that will be viewed by the same evaluators.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about evaluating financial aid packages but for now, the thing to work on is researching all of the free financial aid resources you can muster that require more than just submission of your FAFSA. The time you spend now could quite literally save you many thousands of dollars in the long run.

Be sure to sign up with Tuition.io to get blog updates (even if you’re not borrowing yet) and if you’re already in school and signed on for student loans, be sure to sign up for our free student loan management tool to track and optimize your debt.

Read all of our blog series for High School students:

High School Series Part 1 – Understanding College Costs

High School Series Part 2 – Applying for Financial Aid and Scholarships

High School Series Part 3 – Evaluating Financial Aid Packages

High School Series Part 4 – Making Your College Choice

High School Series Part 5 – Strategies to Minimize Borrowing

High School Series Part 6 – Understanding Debt: Federal vs Private Student Loans