You’ve filled out the FAFSA, narrowed down your choice colleges, and crunched some numbers to determine how much tuition you can realistically afford before borrowing any student loans.
There’s one financial thing left to consider: Should you be applying for scholarships for college?
You might hesitate or write them off for all sorts of reasons. “My grades aren’t good enough. I’m not financially needy enough. I’m not an athlete. Scholarships just aren’t worth applying to if they’re not for a full-ride award.”
These types of thoughts are all myths that can hold you back from submitting scholarship applications. Here are six common myths about scholarships that could keep you from earning free money for school.
Myth #1: Scholarship applications are only for 4.0 GPA students and football stars.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be the class valedictorian, have a sterling 4.0 GPA, or be a football champ to receive a scholarship.
While being a straight-A student can definitely maximize your chances of receiving financial aid, there are plenty of opportunities to earn a scholarship if you’re a B- or C-student (some scholarships for college have no GPA requirement at all).
If your grades aren’t the greatest, remember that they’re only letters and numbers when it comes to receiving an award. Many schools look at other factors beyond academic achievements, like you’re involvement with a special interest or hobby, volunteer work, or your intended major.
Scholarships are also available through several non-academic sources, like your job, local organizations or affiliations, and even online.
Myth #2: Scholarships for college are only for high-school seniors.
This myth may owe its ubiquity to the idea that everyone tends to apply for financial aid during their senior year of high school. But the fact is, any student looking to attend a postsecondary school can apply for scholarship aid at any grade level — nobody is too young or old.
Though some scholarships do have age requirements, many do not. You could be a freshman, sophomore, or junior. You could be in your 20s, 30s, and beyond. An academically zealous elementary-schooler can apply for a scholarship and still qualify if they’re college-bound.
(No joke on that last one; young students can win college scholarships on everything from artistic talent, volunteer work, duck calling, bowling, or for making the meanest peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.)
Myth #3: The scholarship pool is too crowded, so there’s no point in applying.
If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you’d have won a scholarship or not. The most readily available or recognizable scholarships are the ones that tend to receive the most applications, making them the most coveted and competitive of the bunch.
You should still apply to the big awards, but to increase your chances of winning, look into smaller alternative awards and apply to them as well. This may mean putting in some extra work (like writing multiple essays or completing a lengthier scholarship application), but it may pay off in the end.
Myth #4: A scholarship could affect my ability to receive financial aid.
Technically, this myth has a bit of truth in it. Yes, scholarships can affect your financial aid — but not in the way you might think. Winning a scholarship doesn’t exclude you from receiving financial aid or prohibit you from sending out your FAFSA. Rather, it’s a trade-off.
The federal government requires your college or university to reduce the amount of financial aid they may give you if your scholarship (or grant money, or comparable award) exceeds $300 of your calculated need.
But in this case, it’s still up to your individual school to decide which type of financial aid they will reduce if you’ve got a scholarship award in your life.
This means your school’s financial aid offer or your student loan amount may be reduced. But that’s a good thing since it means less money borrowed that you need to repay (with interest), versus free scholarship dollars.
Myth #5: You earn a full-ride scholarship or nothing at all.
You know how the class valedictorian or budding concert pianist always seems to get a full-ride scholarship to some prestigious medical school or music institute? This myth assumes that the big-ticket scholarships for college are the only ones worth pursuing.
In fact, one’s chances of a full-ride are often very slim, no matter how qualified you are; only 20,000 students receive a full-ride scholarship annually.
If you think you can qualify, you should apply for the larger scholarship awards to see how you fare. But don’t pass up on smaller awards. They may go overlooked because of their small amounts, increasing your odds of winning.
A few $50 scholarships here, a couple of hundred-dollar awards there, and it could make a sizable influence on your tuition costs — and less money to borrow in student loans.
Myth #6: Private high school students win more scholarships.
While it’s true that students graduating from private high schools earn slightly more in merit-based scholarships than their public-school peers, it’s not enough to offset the costs of tuition and associated college costs, especially if the graduate is headed to a private college.
(The average in-state public college tuition is $20,090. The private school equivalent in 2016-17? $45,370.)
The point here is that going to public school shouldn’t dissuade you from applying to one or more scholarships. Strategize your application efforts as you would when applying to schools.
Which awards are you most qualified for? What are your strengths and standout areas? And how much aid are you seeking to offset the costs of school and student loans?
Seek out scholarship alternatives
Cover your bases. Seek out other funding alternatives in the event you don’t receive any scholarship money:
- Tuition tax credits can help reimburse expenses you’ve paid for tuition, course fees, or student loan interest.
- School-based financial aid, like work-study programs or grants offered directly through your college, can also cover your associated costs.
- Federal- and state-based aid is also available. They’re often awarded on academic or financial merit, or are meant for students working in a certain field, like teaching, public service, or the military.
Most scholarships for college have varying deadlines, so there’s no set timeframe to apply. Narrow down the opportunities you want to pursue and follow the individual scholarship application processes to apply on time.
The sooner you apply, the better, since knowing how much you’ve won in scholarship money can determine how much you’ll need in student loans.
Ready to start your scholarship search? Learn where to find them here.
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