As a high school senior your primary goal may be to get into college. So you're probably focused on filling out the FAFSA, completing college applications, and maintaining your grades while you hope and wait for acceptance letters.
Once those letters arrive you’ll be tempted to relax and party – and we understand that! You deserve to celebrate for sure. But there’s more to be done if you want to get through college without ending up with an unbelievable burden of debt.
A typical college student graduates with over $26,000 in debt. Many can find only low-paying jobs. One woman wrote an article for Forbes Magazine about graduating with student debt of $90,000. She said she “never bothered” to go after scholarships – financial aid and student loans looked easier. She assumed scholarships were too hard to get – and probably figured she wasn’t even smart enough to win one.
But she was wrong! In the United States more than three million scholarships are available, worth $16 billion! There’s no reason you can’t win some of that scholarship money.
Discover your program today!
First let’s be clear that you still need to fill out a FAFSA — and it should be a top priority. It is the gateway to millions in financial aid for education – including some scholarships – and the only way to get a Pell Grant if you qualify. Pell Grants are federal government grants for education. You qualify strictly on the basis of your income – you do not have to compete with other students. And the earlier you apply, the better your chances of winning the highest possible award. So start with the FAFSA!
Once your FAFSA’s done, devote some serious time to winning scholarships. This is money that states, nonprofit agencies, professional organizations, religious groups and private corporations want to give you to help pay for college or career school. They do that through scholarships, and many of them do not require high grades. Some are for particular fields of study, others have to do with specific ethnicities or other attributes, some are for sports, some are for certain types of talent (like creating clever videos or even tweets), and a surprising number are awarded strictly for luck. Anyone can win — but only if they enter!
Here are some tips and leads to help you win some scholarship money:
Are you musical? Skidmore College offers the Filene Music Scholarship to high school seniors who win a performance competition. A minimum of four scholarships are given out to each class coming into the college. The amount of each scholarship is $12000, half of which is awarded in the fall and half in the spring. If the student maintains good academic standing the scholarship is even renewed each year! Financial need is not considered and the award is in addition to other financial aid the student may receive from the college. The winning applicant is not required to major in music but is expected to continue to develop their expertise and to play in department ensembles each semester as required. Eligible candidates must apply to the college by January 15 so keep that in mind for the 2017-2018 year!
November 2016 Update The Foot Locker Scholar Athletes scholarship program is one of the biggest out there for high school seniors. This year they will be giving out 20 scholarships at $20,000 each to student athletes. You are eligible if you’re a high school senior and you will be going to an accredited university or college in the Fall semester in 2017. Since this is for scholar athletes you must of course be on a team and in good standing as a member of that team. Your (unweighted) GPA from ninth grade to the first semester of your twelfth grade has to be 3.0 or greater. You have to be a citizen of the U.S. or be a Permanent Legal Resident. And you can’t be a Foot Locker employee or family member of an employee. Applications are due by December 16, 2016 so check out the Foot Locker website soon and apply if you qualify!
NEW December 2015: Are you good at creating apps? Or could you put together a team of students to create an app? The U.S. congress has created a competition to inspire students to get good at coding and learning more about computer science and STEM topics in general. You don't win a scholarship but if your app wins an award you get local and national recognition — and who knows where that could lead? This year’s competition runs through January 15, 2016. To be eligible you must be attending a U.S. high school in a participating district. (You can check their web site to see if your district participates and if it doesn’t, you can use a template to send a letter to your representative and get them to join in!). The contest is open to those students who are 13 and above. You can compete as an individual or as part of a team. Entries are judged by a panel of computer science professionals and representatives in your area and you get the honor of being recognized by a Congressional representative. Learn more at congressionalappchallenge.us.
Read a good and thought provoking book, write an essay and win: Don’t have a lot of unique experiences or skills to highlight on your college or scholarship application? If you like to read and you enjoy some intellectual stimulation, why not try competing in the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest? Just read the book and write an essay based on the question posed. The maximum award is $10,000, provided by the Ayn Rand institute. And the application deadline is September 17, 2016 so you still have some time — but don’t procrastinate!
NEW! If you do happen to be one of those students who's at the top of his or her class, maybe you've dreamed of going to one of the top schools in the country. But maybe you have no connections and your family can't begin to pay for such a school. A new organization could be looking for you – and helping those colleges to find you. They have joined with top colleges and universities to help them identify and recruit top students who don't happen to live in the urban areas they are able to visit and from which they typically recruit. Check out our September 2015 newsletter for more information!
Timing: Forget the excuse that you’re too late. Your senior year is actually a great time to make this effort because so many other seniors simply aren’t paying attention. That means you’ll have less competition, especially when you find a scholarship that just requires you to apply to have a chance to win. Scholarships all have different deadlines, and they are different from college application deadlines. So regardless of the time of year, there are scholarships you can apply for and win.
Qualifications: Many people think you have to be a top student or you shouldn’t even apply for a scholarship. This simply isn’t true. There are scholarships out there everyone (remember, there’s three million of them!). Others are sure they can’t receive both scholarships and financial aid. That is also false. These are totally different sources of money for college and you definitely can receive both.
Find the Right Scholarship: This can be overwhelming because there are so many scholarships out there. Here are some easy steps to get started:
- Start by speaking with your high school guidance counselor about scholarships that are available. Check back regularly because they always receive news about new opportunities.
- Do an internet search with the name of your city or county and the term “scholarships”. You may find local scholarships that will have a lot less competition. And even if they’re for smaller sums of money they can add up if you win several of them.
- Use one of the free scholarship sites that are available – they can help you to narrow down your search results based on information about you, your interests and skills, and other things that might qualify for a specific scholarship (like what your parents do for a living, if they served in the military, etc.). As a first step, check out our reviews of fastweb.com and finaid.org.
- Do you already have an idea what you might want to major in? If so, look for professional organizations in your field, take a look at their websites and contact them to see if they offer scholarships for people who plan to enter their field.
- Definitely do an internet search to find any scholarships you can win simply be entering.
Your Scholarship Application: Every scholarship will have its own specific set of instructions you must totally follow in order to have a chance to win. Follow every single instruction to the letter, even if you think it’s foolish. And have someone (a parent or friend you respect) proofread your application to be sure you are in fact following directions and not making any mistakes. Scholarship judges are very busy people and they receive lots of applications — don’t let yours get disqualified for a simple mistake before it’s even read!
Remember It’s a Numbers Game and don’t get discouraged. You might have to look at 100 scholarship opportunities to find ten that you could apply for and win. But you can’t win anything if you don’t try. And imagine how nice it would be to graduate from college without a lot of debt to pay off!
Start looking for scholarships now. Treat it like a job and see if you can identify at least one scholarship to apply for every day. It might be fun to team up with friends and help each other find more opportunities than you can find alone. And check out our articles about Scholarship Information for more places to look and scholarship contests anyone can enter.