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Finding College Scholarships

As college tuition rises, scholarships fill the financial aid gap

The need for college scholarships

College scholarships are increasingly being sought as a way to fill in the gaps caused by ever increasing college tuitions and other educational expenses and decreasing financial aid availability.

In today's world of state budget cutbacks and skyrocketing college tuitions, scholarships can help make the difference between going to college or going to work.

When she was a high school senior, Rachel Melson began to realize that financial aid alone wouldn’t be nearly enough to pay for her college education. In an attempt to find more options, she headed to the web to search for college scholarships. 

“I sent out two full boxes of scholarship applications,” Melson said. Her hard work paid off. This fall, Melson entered her freshman year at Florida A&M University. Her research and hard work were rewarded with three scholarships totaling $80,000!

With rising college expenses, more and more students are turning to scholarships to compliment their financial aid package. Scholarships are most often offered by sources such as large companies and organizations. Many colleges and universities also offer scholarships exclusively for their students. 

Where to Find Scholarships

Like Melson, many students take advantage of free online scholarship databases and research websites. These types of sites match students’ profiles to hundreds of scholarships for which they may be eligible. 

“It’s a very efficient way to look for a scholarship,” said Patti Cohen, vice president of Coca-Cola's Scholars Foundation.

“Scholarship research websites have a staff that is continuously updating the scholarships. We always encourage students to look online for scholarships that they may be eligible for.” 

Always remember that students should never have to pay for a scholarship service. The most effective (and most legitimate) scholarship databases are available for free on the internet. 

Some scholarships are often as close as your local city hall. Many civic and community organizations offer college scholarships for students, along with local fire and police departments. And be sure to consider cultural institutions, which frequently offer grants to talented student artists. 

Scholarship Eligibility

There is a widespread myth that only students with high grades can win scholarships. But in reality, many of the best scholarship programs available are intended for students with special talents and interests in fields such as music, writing, community service, and science, to name just a few.

Often, these programs don't consider grades at all, or they use grade point averages strictly as a preliminary cutoff point, usually an easy to maintain 2.0 minimum GPA. 

“We don’t heavily consider grade point averages, test scores, or other quantitative measures of a student’s record,” said Dr. Carrie Besnette, program director of the Daniel’s Fund scholarship. “We prefer to look past that, at a student’s background and other factors to determine a his persistence.” 

The key to being able to find scholarships is to think in broad terms. What is the student’s field of interest? What is his desired college major and career goals? Is he involved in any extracurricular activities, student organizations, or volunteer work? 

“I was enrolled in several honors classes, but I knew that there were other kids who were going to graduate with higher GPAs than me,” Melson said. “So in every scholarship application, I stressed as my main goal a desire to give back to my community.” 

Also, a student’s state of residence can qualify her for a variety of scholarships. Many state governments offer special financial help to in-state students, and some local scholarships are even specific to certain cities or counties! 

Scholarship seekers also need to consider their parents’ background and affiliations. Many large companies offer scholarships for the dependents of employees, as do the military services and organizations such as the Elks Association.

Applying for college scholarships

A common mistake that many students make is thinking they can maximize their chances of winning a scholarship by putting all their efforts into one or two specific scholarship programs.

But applying for scholarships is largely a numbers game; the more scholarships you apply for, the better your odds of winning one or more of them. 

No scholarship amount is too small. Even $200 can help cover common college expenses like books for a term, a month’s phone bill, or that spring break “research” trip to Daytona Beach. Also keep in mind that winning smaller awards can boost a student’s chances of winning a larger scholarship prize!

“You have a better chance of winning a smaller award than a larger one, and all those small amounts add up,” Melson said. “If you win a smaller scholarship, you can use that money to help pay for room and board.” 

Don't be fooled into thinking it's too early or too late to start searching for scholarships. Many scholarships are awarded as early as junior high school, while others are designed for graduate students or adult returning students.

Article courtesy of Fastweb.com.

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