The cost of college these days is nothing to sneeze at. According to College Board, four years at a public university could set you back more than $95,000.
Unless you have a fortune sitting your bank account, you should be applying far and wide for scholarships and grants to help you cover the cost of an education.
The U.S. Department of Education distributed $29 billion in grants to 7.3 recipients last year. Private organizations dole out billions more in awards. Before you can win free money, though, you need to know how to get a scholarship. These nine reasons are the most common — how many apply to you?
9 reasons you could win a scholarship or grant
1. Financial need
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 need to fill out the FAFSA. Submit it as soon as possible each year to get the most aid.
Some colleges also rely on the FAFSA to give out need-based scholarships; other schools might ask you to submit the CSS Profile, which you can submit through College Board. The more financial need you have, the more scholarship money you could qualify for.
Select private organizations also take financial need into account, although that’s usually not their only requirement. For example, the Bonner Scholars program provides a full ride to students with financial need who are committed to social justice. The Davis Putter Scholarship Fund similarly looks for community service leaders with demonstrated financial need.
To find even more opportunities, make the most of scholarship search engines. Using College Board’s scholarship search tool, for example, you can filter your results by financial need, among other criteria.
2. Academic achievement
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.
3. Community service
Students who volunteer in their communities are also eligible for a number of scholarship opportunities. DoSomething.org, for instance, awards $1,000 for completing one of its volunteer campaigns. The AXA Foundation gives prizes of $2,500, $10,000, or $25,000 to students who made an outstanding contribution to their community.
Darrell Andrews, Jr. won an unbelievable $700,000 in scholarships that helped him pay for both college and graduate school. “I created a mentoring program called the Super Hero Project for middle school boys,” said Andrews.
“Talking about what I learned and what I would do differently showed the scholarship judges I could think critically to lead and solve problems. It was because of the outcomes of this mentoring program [that] I won scholarships.”
Volunteering for community service doesn’t just do good in the world — it could also help you pay for college.
4. Athletic accomplishments
The NCAA awards major scholarship money to Division I and Division II recruits. But scholarships for sports don’t just go to star athletes. 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, Inc. awards $1,000 scholarships to athletes who inspire the committee most with their essay. Foot Locker, Inc. gives $20,000 scholarships to 20 students who are “leaders on and off the field.”
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.
5. Personal identity factors such as gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation
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 if you’re a minority student with a commitment to community service.
- Women Techmakers Scholars Program: Awards $10,000 to female students who plan to study computer science, computer engineering, or a related technical field.
- Out to Innovate Scholarship: Provides $5,000 to LGBTQ or LGBTQ-supportive students who plan to major in a STEM field.
If you’re part of an underrepresented group, you might find scholarships to support your plans.
6. Parents’ place of employment
Do your parents work at Walmart or CVS? If so, you could be in luck. Many large companies offer corporate scholarships to the children of their employees.
The Walmart Dependent Scholarship awards scholarships up to $13,000 for its employees’ kids. The CVS Health Foundation Scholarship offers an undisclosed amount, but gives out awards to as many as 25 percent of applicants. Intel’s Andy Grove Scholarship awards up to $4,000 for children of employees to pursue their education; the Siemens Merit Scholarship offers the same.
Children of federal employees might also win money from the Federal Employee Education Assistance Fund. Check online to find programs available to you — or simply ask your parents how to get a scholarship from their employer.
7. Military families
Not only does the military help active members pay for school, but it also offers scholarship money to the children or grandchildren of soldiers.
The AMVETS Scholarship, for instance, provides to $4,000 for children or grandchildren of active duty personnel or veterans. The Dolphin Scholarship gives $2,000 or $3,400 to children of active duty members of the Navy’s submarine force.
If a parent or grandparent served in the military, you could get thousands of dollars toward your tuition.
8. Unusual traits, skills, or hobbies
You don’t have to get straight As or be a star athlete to get scholarship money. Some organizations look for students with unconventional traits, skills, or hobbies.
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. ScholarshipRed looks for natural redheads, and the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest awards students with a knack for duck calling.
If you want to get specific, 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.
9. Random luck
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 and the Go Ennounce Yourself Scholarship. Your chances of winning might be slim — but it certainly can’t hurt to try!
How to get scholarships for anything
Before you can win money for college, you need to know how to get a scholarship. As you can tell from the list above, the sky’s the limit. There are tons of categories that could make you eligible.
Plus, you don’t have to wait until senior year to apply. In fact, there are plenty of scholarships available to students starting in 9th grade. By starting early, you could accrue lots of money for college.
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