College is a time for new experiences, new people, and unfortunately new debt. While it may be the best time of your life, you cannot ignore the student loan debt looming over your head (as easy as it may be). With rising tuition and demand for college education, student loans are now almost a necessity for a large majority of incoming college students.
If you happen to be in high school, then you may want to take a lesson from the college experience of millions who are kicking themselves for taking on student loan debt. There are viable alternatives to student loans; for instance, federal programs and private institutions offer grants and scholarships to aspiring college students. These are commonly referred to as “free money.”
How do you get a piece of that “free money” that is doled out every year? Check out some of these tips. Some of them refer to grants while others focus on scholarships, but they are different means to the same end: free financial aid.
Start with the FAFSA
If you have been avoiding the FAFSA, then you have been going about the process all wrong. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is step one when searching for financial aid at a university or college. Its importance really cannot be understated since it is the predominant way for the government to assess your financial needs.
After submitting an application, you can learn about what types of federal student aid are available to you based on your financial needs, namely loans and grants. As an applicant, you are going to want to qualify for federal grants versus a federal loan.
There are multiple different types of grants available to different demographics; for instance, a Federal Pell Grant is student aid given out to undergraduates. Since it is a grant, this funding is not paid back to the government which is in direct contrast to a student loan.
A similar grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), is awarded to only low-income, high-need college prospects. Like a Pell Grant, it does not need to be paid back to the government.
These are more desirable for obvious reasons. A student loan must be paid back to the government with interest, and a grant is essentially “free money.” With this in mind, it must be noted that grants are much harder to qualify for. If you do happen to be eligible, then you definitely want to take advantage of these instead of signing up for a student loan.
Earn Good Grades in High School
This piece of advice is truly a no-brainer, but it is still an important point to reiterate. Achieving excellent grades in high school simply increases your chances of qualifying for any sort of merit-based financial aid. On that note, there are tons of merit-based financial aid opportunities in the form of scholarships and university provided grants.
Plainly put, colleges and universities want smart kids to attend their schools. With that being said, large universities are willing to give out financial aid purely based on merit in the form of university grants. Just like federal grants, these do not require repayment.
In addition to university grants, organizations and scholarship funds are willing to provide scholarships to aspiring college students. Many of these institutions want to invest in a bright future which points directly at your track record in high school. If you are having trouble, there are ways to improve. You can reach out to your teachers, or you can take advantage of one of the many free tutoring services online.
Focusing on your GPA throughout high school is the best way to secure a piece of this free financial aid. In a way, you are improving your marketability as a candidate. Merit-based scholarships and grants are notoriously competitive which only increases the importance of grades.
This tip mainly applies to scholarship applications. If you start applying to scholarships early on in high school, then you are simply going to cover way more scholarships than someone who starts six months later. On top of this, you are increasing your chances of landing multiple scholarships.
A simple example suffices here. Let us say the average success rate on scholarship applications is 7% and you apply to over 500 different scholarships over a span of a few years in high school. By law of averages, you are going to win about 35 scholarships.
While this is a generic example, there are several points to be taken from this. While 500 applications sound miserable, it is entirely doable over a span of two or three years. Eventually, you will become a scholarship application pro. On top of this, it is a great way to cover less competitive scholarships.
Know When and When Not to Apply
If you have been indiscriminately submitting scholarship applications, there is a good chance you are burned out without seeing any results. Changing your approach can go a long way by increasing your chances of winning a scholarship. This all boils down to eligibility requirements.
On each scholarship application, you need to take some time and really look over the requisites. If you apply to a scholarship without fitting all of the requirements, then your chances of being screened out are much greater.
Plainly put, some scholarships are worth your time while others are a complete waste of your time. Learning how to invest your time while applying to scholarships is an absolutely necessary skill to have.
Find Niche Scholarships
A niche scholarship is also commonly known as a “weird” scholarship. These scholarships fit a certain unique demographic, or in other words, they are for people with uncommon traits or specific characteristics.
Weird scholarships are awarded for all sorts of reasons that you would never think of. A few examples include scholarships for people with red hair, scholarships for left-handed people, or scholarships for short people. If you can think of something unique, then there is a good shot there is a relevant scholarship.
Luckily, finding these scholarships is made easy. A good tool for finding weird scholarships is a scholarship website; these resources include tons of scholarship listings with detailed descriptions. Start some internal reflection to figure out what sets you apart from the masses; this is the first step towards landing a weird scholarship.
What are you best tips for finding scholarships or grants to generate free money for higher education?
Brian is a Dad, husband, and an IT professional by trade. A Personal Finance Blogger since 2013. Who, with his family, has successfully paid off over $100K worth of consumer debt. Now that Brian is debt free, his mission is to help his three children prepare for their financial lives and educate others to achieved financial success. Brian is involved in his local community. As a Financial Committee Chair with the Board of Education of his local school district, he has helped successfully launch a K-12 financial literacy program in a six thousand student district.