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If you’re hoping to help finance your college education with money you don’t have to pay back, you may be wondering how to win scholarships. There are many factors that go into getting scholarships or grants.
1. Financial need
2. Academic achievement
3. Community service
4. Athletic accomplishments
5. Gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation
6. Parents’ place of employment
7. Being part of a military family
8. Unusual traits, skills or hobbies
9. Random luck
Both the Department of Education and private sources award scholarship money to students with financial need. To qualify for federal- and state-funded grants, you must fill out the FAFSA. Submit it as soon as possible each year to get the most aid.
If you are not able to get the amount of federal aid you think you need, you might consider submitting the CSS Profile. This is an application you fill out through the College Board, and it’s focused on aid from college and other scholarship programs not associated with the federal government. The more financial need you have, the more scholarship money you might qualify for.
Select private organizations may also take financial need into account, although that’s usually not their only requirement. For example, the Bonner Scholar Program provides a full ride to students with financial need who are committed to social justice. The Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund similarly offers grants to community service leaders with demonstrated financial need.
Being a star student is another common way to win scholarship money. Some colleges and organizations give prizes to students for their high school grades or scores on standardized tests.
Boston University and American University, among others, even offer full-ride scholarships to students with exceptional academic achievement. And the National Merit Scholarship Corporation gives $2,500 scholarships to some students who get top scores on the PSAT.
When applying for an academic merit scholarship, you’ll likely need to send your high school transcript, official score reports and recommendation letters from a teacher or two. After reviewing your record, colleges and committees could decide to reward all your hard work.
Students who volunteer in their communities may also be eligible for a number of scholarship opportunities. DoSomething.org, for instance, offers several scholarship opportunities ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 for working on quick campaigns to fight racism, encourage voting and more. The Equitable Foundation gives prizes of $2,500, $10,000, or $25,000 to students who made an outstanding contribution to their community.
It’s clear that volunteering for community service doesn’t just do good in the world — it may also help you pay for college. There’s little to lose when it comes to volunteering in your community. Even if you don’t ultimately get a scholarship, you’ll be making a difference, and that’s worth a lot, too.
The NCAA awards big scholarship money to Division I and Division II recruits. But you don’t have to be a superstar college athlete to get an athletic-based scholarship. If you play in high school but don’t plan to be a college athlete, you could still potentially win money for your involvement.
Sports Unlimited, for example, awards $1,000 scholarships to athletes who inspire the committee most with their essay. Foot Locker gives annual $20,000 scholarships to 20 students who demonstrate “excellence in school, on their sports team and in their communities.”
As for how to get scholarships for athletes, do some research online. Plus, ask your school counselor about local opportunities that might not be available nationwide.
Many scholarship organizations provide financial support to minority or underrepresented students. Here are just a few examples:
- Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship: Win up to $30,000 over four years at the school of your choice if you’re a student with a commitment to community service. This program is geared toward students of color.
- The Society of Women Engineers: Awards scholarships to all students who identify as women and are pursuing an ABET-accredited undergraduate or graduate degree in engineering, engineering technology or computer science. The website states that in 2019, SWE gave out close to 260 new and renewed scholarships at a value of over $800,000.
- Out to Innovate Scholarship: Provides two $5,000 annually — one undergrad and one grad-level — to LGBTQ+ or LGBTQ+-supportive students who plan to major in a STEM field.
If you’re part of an underrepresented group, or if you are a strong ally of such groups, you might find scholarships to support your college plans.
Many large companies offer corporate scholarships to the children of their employees.
The CVS Health Foundation Scholarship offers an undisclosed amount, but gives out awards to as many as 25% of applicants, according to their website. Intel’s Andy Grove Scholarship awards up to $4,000 for children of employees to pursue their education.
Children of federal employees might also win scholarship amounts from $1,000 to $5,000 from the Federal Employee Education Assistance Fund.
Talk to your parents to see if their place of work might offer this kind of benefit.
Not only does the military help active members pay for school, but it also offers scholarship money to the children or spouses of soldiers.
The AMVETS Scholarship, for instance, provides scholarships to veterans and their spouses who are looking to advance their career in the skilled trades industry or who are studying computer science. The Dolphin Scholarship gives $2,000 or $3,400 to children or spouses of active or former members of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force, or those who have supported the force.
You don’t have to get straight A’s or be a star athlete to get scholarship money. Some organizations look for students with unconventional skills — or even simply for traits with which they were born.
Tall Clubs International, for instance, doles out awards to men who are at least 6 feet, 2 inches tall and women who are 5 feet, 10 inches or taller.
As for unusual skills, the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest awards students with a knack for duck calling $500 to $2,000 in scholarship money.
You might even find a scholarship that awards you for your last name. The Gatling Grant scholarship goes specifically to students with the last name Gatling or Gatlin. There’s one more requirement, though: You also have to attend North Carolina State University. If you run into another Gatling on campus, you’ll have an instant conversation starter.
Finally, some scholarships work like the lottery: They randomly select winners. Most don’t even require an essay; all you have to do is put your name in the hat.
Some of these luck-of-the-draw scholarships include the Niche No Essay Scholarship, which awards $2,000, and the You Deserve It Scholarship, which awards $1,000. Your chances of winning may be slim — but it takes little effort to try.
Before you can win money for college, you need to know how to get a scholarship. Here are some tips to help you on your path.
1. Get involved
2. Create an accomplishments document
3. Dedicate a good amount of time to research
4. Make use of your connections
5. Consider everything you’ll need for your applications
6. Hone your essay-writing skills
7. Be careful with your online profile
8. Ensure everything is legit
9. Stay on top of deadlines
10. Apply, apply, apply
11. Narrow your focus
12. Follow directions
As you see from the scholarship and grant possibilities noted above, there are a good amount of opportunities out there to help you finance your education. But in order to qualify for many of them, you have to be an involved member of your school or community. Make sure you take part in extracurricular activities that interest you, and think about the various ways you can volunteer in your community. The more skills you have and experiences you acquire, the more likely you may be to secure scholarships or grants.
Create a document that lists all of your accomplishments and skills in one place, from the academic and athletic to the community service-centric. It will help to have one document to reference as you look into the various scholarships and grants for which you might qualify.
Getting scholarships and grants should be considered something of a job. You should keep on top of all the scholarships available by doing your research thoroughly, including doing online searches and speaking with an academic counselor about opportunities. Make the most of scholarship search engines as well.
You know what people say — it’s not just what you know, but who you know. This is true in many cases. Think about your existing network and consider how the people in it might be able to help you on your quest to get a scholarship or grant. Don’t feel shy about approaching them, especially if you have a good relationship. You never know who may be able to help you in ways you never considered before.
When applying for scholarships, there are several documents and files you may need to have on hand. Make sure you know how to access your school transcripts, ensure that you have a list of your employers and work experience handy if needed, have your parents’ financial information handy (particularly for filling out the FAFSA) and ask for letters of recommendation from teachers or others so you will have them when you need them.
Not all scholarship and grant applications require essays in their applications, but many do. Having a great essay could be the difference between getting a scholarship and leaving money on the table. If you feel your essay-writing skills could use some work, see if one of your current teachers or professors might be willing to help you. If not, look to hiring a tutor to help you craft a winning essay.
These days, your online presence can be extremely important when it comes to your educational or career path. When you are posting to Instagram, or TikTok or any number of social media outlets, always think about how what you are doing might be perceived by organizations that offer scholarships and grants. You would not want a moment of poor judgment to affect your chances of securing those funds (or even worse, affect your chances of attending the school of your choice). Even if you think what you are doing is “private,” anything you put online might find its way into the hands of those you didn’t intend it to.
As with many other things, there are scholarship scams out there. Particularly when applying online, make sure you are dealing with legitimate organizations, and be wary of anyone asking for payments of any kind. Also, if you get a notice saying you have won a scholarship you never even applied for, that may be a red flag.
Don’t let a worthy opportunity pass you by — stay on top scholarship offers and their deadlines. Add the deadlines to your calendar, giving yourself a good amount of time to get the application in after you get the alert. If anything, you should apply early rather than wait for the final deadline day. It would be a shame to miss out on a scholarship or grant that may be perfect for you simply because you missed a deadline.
The more scholarships and grants you apply for, the better your chances may be of receiving one or several of them. And the more awards you get, the more you can chip away at your college bill. So don’t just stop at applying for one or two. Make a list of all the opportunities that fit your eligibility profile and apply to as many as you can.
That said, while you should apply for as many scholarships and grants for which you are qualified, don’t waste your time on applications for awards that you likely won’t qualify. If you aren’t heavily involved in community service, for example, don’t try to play up your small amount of experience for an award based on active service. Not only is that potentially unfair to applicants who are actually very involved in community service, but it’s likely a wasted effort. Concentrate on the awards for which you have a real chance.
When scholarship and grant programs give directions for how to apply, they mean what they say. So if they ask for a 500-word essay and you give them a 1,000-word essay, it’s unlikely they will award you for your extra effort. Instead, your application may be discounted because you did not follow the guidelines they gave. Don’t just skim directions, or follow them loosely. Do exactly what is asked.
Know all your options
Getting scholarships or grants is a great way to help fund your college education and avoid large amounts of college debt. However, if you can’t completely cover your education through these awards, student loans can help. You can go here to learn everything you need to know about federal and private student loans.
Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.
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|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
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Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.