How to stay aware and apply for college scholarships

graduation caps falling from the skyThe average cost for a four-year college education in the United States is around $40,000, and that doesn’t include room, board, or other living expenses. If you’re thinking of going to college, it’s a good idea to begin thinking of ways to pay for it as early as possible.

One way many students can pay for college is through scholarships. Scholarships are funds awarded to students based on a number of different merits, including athletic ability, academics, or other criteria. Some scholarships will pay the entire cost of college to well-qualified students, while others will pay a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. The earlier you begin thinking about scholarships, the better, and it’s not too early to start researching them your freshman year.

The following tips will help you find a scholarship:

Talk to your guidance counselors.
One of the first places you’ll want to gain information about scholarships will be your career office or guidance counselor at your school. Your career office or guidance counselor at your school will be an excellent source to help you examine different forms of scholarships that you can apply for. There are many scholarships you may not even be aware of, and you needn’t be a star athlete or have a perfect grade point average to get one. They can also help you with the application process, which is a timely and sometimes confusing process.

Look at scholarships offered by your college of choice
The best place to look for scholarships is the college or vocational school of your choice. Get on the school’s website and search, or call and ask for information. In addition, check into the department of the academic program you are applying to; for example, if you plan on majoring in English, ask the English department if they offer any scholarships.

Enter contests
There are many contests communities and schools have that offer scholarship money as a reward. These range from races to writing and essay contests to 4-H competitions. Keep your eyes open for any contests you may be interested in winning. Often, these don’t award full scholarships, but every amount helps when it comes to paying for tuition.

Keep your grades up
Scholarships are very competitive. The attractive thing about a scholarship is that unlike a loan, you never have to pay it back; that’s why so many students apply. However, there are limited funds, so often times only those students who are best qualified to receive scholarships will get them. For example, let’s say a scholarship calls for a 3.0 average to be eligible, but the majority of the applicants have at least a 3.5. You have a 3.2. While you’re still eligible to apply for the scholarship, you may be weeded out early on in the process. Make sure to keep your grades up by studying and devoting enough time to school. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but be sure and strike a balance.

When it’s time to apply, go over applications carefully.
When it comes time to apply for your scholarships, give yourself plenty of time to apply. It is recommended you budget 10-15 hours for each application. Make sure to get it in by the deadline, and proofread your applications several times for mistakes in writing or errors in information.