Many people get overwhelmed during the college application process, especially when it comes to financial aid. But, what exactly is financial aid? The term ‘financial aid’ covers many topics: loans, grants, work-study, loan-forgiveness programs and scholarships. It can be confusing trying to decipher which programs may be best for you, but one thing is for certain – EVERYONE should consider scholarships!

What are Scholarships?

Scholarships are basically ‘free money’ for college, and unlike loans, they never have to be paid back. Scholarship providers will disburse the funds directly to the student or they may send a check to the student’s college financial aid office. Generally, scholarships help cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books and other educational expenses, although some scholarships are unrestricted and can be used for other expenses, such as food and travel abroad.

Who is Eligible?

Many students make the mistake of assuming they will not qualify for a scholarship because their parents make too much money or their grades are less than stellar. It may surprise you to know that not all programs are based on merit or financial need. Students can be rewarded for participating in sports, community service, studying a specific major and more! Scholarships are not limited to high school seniors either. All high school students, college students and adult learners returning to school are encouraged to apply. There are scholarships for all levels of study, as well, including undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D.

Where Do You Find Scholarships?

There are several good resources for locating scholarships. Check with your high school guidance counselor, college financial aid office, employer and local organizations and clubs. Students can help speed up the process by using a reputable and accurate online scholarship search service, as well. Be sure to avoid using any scholarship search service that requires a fee.

How Often Should You Search?

Your scholarship search should be an ongoing process. Do not make the mistake of searching for awards once or twice and then never returning to your account or following up with other resources. New scholarships are added every day and you may miss out on a golden opportunity if you fail to schedule time for your scholarship search. A good rule of thumb is to apply to at least 5-10 awards every month, continuing until you have completed your degree. The earlier you start the process, the better. Remember, you can’t win if you don’t apply!

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