Scholarships: How to Search for Free Money to Pay for School

One of the thoughts plaguing many students' minds when applying for college might be, “How am I going to pay for all of this?” According to a longitudinal study, 33% of first generation students leave college before obtaining a college degree as compared to 14% of students whose parents completed a bachelor degree (U.S. Department of Education’s 2018 Stats in Brief).

In addition, another study found that 54% of students stated that their reason for leaving was that they could not afford to continue (U.S. Department of Education’s 2017 Stats in Brief). 

  • 33%First-generation students who leave college before obtaining a degree*  
  • 14%Students who leave college before obtaining a bachelor's degree whose parents have a degree* 
  • 54%Students' stated reason for leaving was financial** 

As dark as these statistics may seem, persistence and strategizing financially as much as you can are the keys to success.

The bright side is that there are many ways to pay for your degree, but you need to know where to look. When I was a student, I didn’t realize just how many scholarship options there were until I was in my final year of school, after taking time off due to financial reasons. When it comes to financial assistance, there are three main types of aid: 1) grants, which don’t need to be paid back; 2) loans, which do need to be paid back; and 3) scholarships, which I will focus on here.

"I’ve found it’s an invaluable way to practice talking about your extracurricular experiences meaningfully."

The first step to searching for a scholarship is to have an idea of where you’d like to go to school, as each school is likely to have its own scholarships and its own deadline for applying, and those scholarships may be dependent on undergraduate status.

I remember coming across websites like Fastweb, filling out the forms, creating the essays, and coming out empty-handed. While these scholarship search engines did not prove fruitful to me scholarship-wise, it’s definitely worth the effort to try. If you have time to fill out a few forms, I’ve found it’s an invaluable way to  practice talking about your extracurricular experiences meaningfully. You can then apply these writing skills to scholarships that your college may offer, and you’ll be able to be much more effective when talking about your own journey.

In addition to Fastweb, there are countless other scholarship search engines such as Scholarships.com or Peterson’s. You’ll find scholarships based on academic interests, curricular activities, career goals, your specific background, or demographic information. One thing to be aware of when searching is scholarship scams, because they do exist. Fastweb has a great section about scholarship scams that goes in depth about what to watch out for, so just be mindful of that.

"The assumption that you won’t be eligible is really a misconception."

Are there any groups that you are currently volunteering for that might offer tuition assistance? These could be church groups, the nonprofit where you volunteer, or even your workplace. Start asking friends and family for additional leads. Maybe one of your mom’s friends knows about a college scholarship that’s offered at their office. The main takeaway here is to start working through your own personal grapevine. You never know what you might turn up just by asking.

I want to close this post by saying that you should definitely apply for as many scholarships as possible. In addition, the assumption that you won’t be eligible is really a misconception. There are scholarships for all types of students. So whether you have low socioeconomic status, or you come from a family in a higher income bracket, it’s always worth applying.

Searching for a scholarship is part one of the process. You might be asking yourself, “How do I write a scholarship essay?” In next month’s post, I’ll be talking about the writing process, and how I approached writing my first scholarship essay.

Stay tuned!
Stephanie Davison
College in the Schools, UMN Twin Cities

US Department of Education’s 2018 Stats in Brief
** US Department of Education’s 2017 Stats in Brief

 

Read more First-Gen Voices blog posts.