Are you headed to college or trade school? If you are, you probably have the same concern as nearly every other college-bound student: how do I PAY for it all? With college costs steadily rising, it can seem daunting to start the process of searching for financial aid. Luckily, there really are plenty of resources out there to help you with your journey to financing your education using available scholarships and grants.
Before we get into how and where to find the money you’ll need for college, here’s a brief list of items you’ll need to apply:
- Resume – Make sure that you have edited this document several times, as this is your first impression to those choosing applicants.
- Tax information
- Your parents’ tax information – This is necessary only if you’re living with your parents and/or they claim you on their taxes.
- Social security number
- GPA and transcripts – Include transcripts from any college courses that you’ve completed.
- Letters of recommendation – Ask for these early. You’ll need three, and it’s a good idea to ask for more so that you have some flexibility in which ones you hand out.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it should get you started. Specific scholarships may ask for different items, such as essays, but they’re usually specific to the scholarship, so it doesn’t make sense to do them ahead of time.
Where to find grants and scholarships
Now for the nuts and bolts: below, you’ll find a lot of information on how to go about finding scholarships and grants to fund your education.
1. Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). This should be the very first step that you take in your search for financial aid. By filling out the FAFSA, you are putting yourself in the running for a number of federal financial aid programs. These include PELL grants, student loans, and work study hours.
It’s a pretty simple online form, but you’ll need all of your tax information from the current year, social security information, and, if you’re living with your parents, their tax information as well. It’s a very quick turn around, and you’ll know quickly what your options are in terms of federal financial aid.
The FAFSA has recently been updated to be available on October 1 the year before you attend, and it’s a good idea to fill it out right away. Just know that you’ll have to update your income information every year that you attend college as soon as your taxes have been completed. Go to www.studentaid.ed.gov for more information.
2. Your school guidance counselor. If you are a high school student, your school guidance counselor might just be the very best resource there is for finding money for school. He or she will have the inside track concerning any local scholarships that might be available. There are usually quite a few of these.
Local scholarships aren’t always posted online, so this is likely the only way that you’ll be able to find these opportunities. Your guidance counselor can also help you with the application process for FAFSA and help you refine your resume, letters of interest, etc. All of these items are important when it comes to getting money for college. In many cases, local scholarships will require a portfolio included transcripts, so make sure that you’re working on this early.
3. Institutional scholarships. Every college and trade school gives out a certain number of scholarships to incoming students. These range from a few hundred dollars to a full ride, and it’s easy to apply. Once you’ve been accepted to an institution, you’ll likely get instructions on how to apply. But if you don’t, simply go the the school’s website and find the “financial aid” section.
You’ll probably need to create a login and complete some basic questions. They may also ask you to upload letters of recommendation, essays, answers to questions, or some combination thereof. If you’re having a hard time finding out where to apply for these scholarships, a quick call to the school’s financial aid office should clear up any confusion.
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4. Big Future Scholarships. Big Future is the College Board’s scholarship search engine (the same people who put out the ACT), and it’s a good one. Not only can you search for scholarships easily on their website, but you can also search colleges and careers.
This means that, if you haven’t already decided on a course of action, you’ll be able to see what careers and colleges best fits your individual needs. If you’re still a few years off from college, Big Future can help you develop a plan that puts you where you need to be for the future. Overall, it’s list of functions is pretty impressive. Go to www.bigfuture.org for more information.
5. Scholarship search engines. There are some really good scholarship search engines out there that can help you maneuver through the seemingly endless sea of scholarships. Fastweb, scholarships.com, collegenet.com, and Peterson’s are all good tools in the search for college money.
The scholarships you can find on these search engines range from small regional scholarships to nationwide full rides. Large and small corporations list all sorts of opportunities on these engines. A good suggestion is to use Big Future and one other search engine such as those listed here.
Many of these search engines overlap, so there’s not really a need to sign up for all of them. However, by signing up for 2-3, you can cover your bases really well. A tip: pay close attention to the due dates listed on these search engines, and start searching for money early. Some close as soon as October 31 the year prior to college attendance.
6. Professional associations. There are plenty of organizations out there in every field that are giving money to college students headed into a particular field of study. When you use a scholarship search engine, you’ll find a lot of these. However, not all of them show up there. In order to make sure you’re exhausting all possibilities, you can simply do a web search for scholarships that are available in your field.
Make sure you are specific enough to find what you need, and use quotes to make sure you get exactly what you’re looking for. For example, a search for “scholarships for nursing students” produces a plethora of results for nursing scholarships.
If you follow all of these avenues, you should be well on your way to finding success in funding your education!