Do you know when you should start looking for scholarships to help pay for your college education? If you’re like many people, you may think that you have to wait until your senior year of high school to start winning free money for college. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s a myth that could cost you thousands of dollars in financial aid. Every year, we hear stories about students who waited too long to start their scholarship search. You probably know a few of them. They’re the ones frantically applying to every scholarship under the sun between March and May, hoping that they will win enough money to cover the gap between their financial aid offers and the cost of their dream college. Most will be faced with the tough decision of choosing an alternate school or taking on more student loan debt than they anticipated. Neither is a decision you should have to face.
Remember that old saying, “The early bird gets the worm?” Well, it applies to scholarships, too! In general, you should begin applying for scholarships no later than your freshman year of high school. Yes, that’s right…the 9th grade. Many scholarship programs are open to students 13 and older, and it’s also the age you can begin using many of the free, online scholarship search services to help you locate all those awards. Beginning your search your freshman year also has several advantages.
You will have multiple opportunities to apply for certain programs that are open to all high school students. This means if you fail to win on your first try, you’ll have an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and submit a better application the following year.
You won’t be so stressed out your freshman year because you won’t be worried about taking college entrance exams or completing college admissions applications.
You will have more time to build your scholarship nest egg, which will give you more flexibility when it comes to choosing a college your senior year.
If you’re really motivated to find as much free money for college as possible, you could even start searching and applying for scholarships in elementary and middle school. There are many essay and creative contests available to younger students. Here are just a few that are fun to enter.
$1,000 Angela Award – Open to students in grades 5 through 8. The deadline is November 30.
$30,000 Doodle 4 Google – Open to students in grades K through 12. This contest is held each spring with the deadline typically in March.
$10,000 Kohl’s Kids Who Care Program – Open to students between the ages of 6 and 18. Next deadline is March 14, 2015.
$2,500 Olive Garden ‘Pasta Tales’ Essay Contest – Open to students in grades 1 through 12. Applications are available in the spring.
Now, don’t think that you’re out of luck if you’re older than a high school freshman. There are still plenty of scholarships waiting to be won. Just keep in mind that most scholarship providers take anywhere from six to twelve weeks to review applications, notify winners, and disburse the awards. So, if you need funding for next fall, you should be trying to apply to as many scholarship programs as possible right now. And here’s one last piece of advice…don’t stop applying until you are walking across the stage to receive your college diploma. Most scholarships are a one-time award, so you’ll need to keep applying to ensure you have funding each and every semester you are in school.