How to Get Great Scholarships for Current College Students

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It’s possible to go to school completely for free with the right combination of grants and scholarships for current college students. By applying quickly and doing good research and networking, you can better position yourself to secure these opportunities.

Here’s what you need to do to get the most aid, whether it’s need-based, merit-based, demographic-based, talent-based or some combination.

How to find scholarships for current college students

There are thousands of scholarships for current college students available online via various scholarship search tools, such as the CollegeBoard’s Big Future and Fastweb. Schools also continue to give out financial aid to students beyond their first year. You’re bound to find a few awards that may be right for you by contacting your school’s financial aid office, looking on websites or searching local newspapers and human resources posts about community and employer-based scholarships.

One thing to keep in mind as you look through opportunities is scholarship scams. If you are asked for your Social Security number, a fee or bank account account information, show the scholarship information to your college counselor before proceeding.

Fill out the FAFSA

Be sure to fill out the Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA) to get financial assistance in the form of state and federal financial aid. The FAFSA is often misunderstood as just the pathway to federal student loans, but it’s also the starting point for letting the federal government, state government and colleges know you want financial aid.

Filling out the FAFSA directly impacts your eligibility for Pell Grants, the main federal grant awarded. Depending on a variety of factors, such as your family’s expected contribution, the cost of attendance and your enrollment status, students could receive up to $6,495 per year in Pell Grant funding alone.

States also may use information from the FAFSA to award grants and scholarships for college students. Every grant or scholarship may have different rules, such as age, income, a specific GPA requirement or a specific career field, said Robert Falcon, founder of College Funding Solutions.

Additionally, schools may consider the FAFSA for your financial aid request. Most of the financial aid you receive from the school after your first year is likely to be need-based as opposed to merit-based aid based, Falcon said. Thus, filling out the FAFSA is an extra-important step in your process.

Because some grants, such as university grants, are first come, first served, it’s important to fill out the FAFSA as close to when it becomes available on Oct. 1 as possible. If your finances have declined since what was reported on your FAFSA, make sure you fill out a special circumstances form with the school to explain why. You can report costs like emergency medical expenses to negotiate your financial aid.

Fill out a CSS

The CSS Profile is a form required by about 240 colleges in addition to the FAFSA. If you go to one of these schools, you may not receive financial aid from your school without filling out this form, said Falcon. The money that you could miss out on includes university grants and scholarships based on need, merit and/or talent, he said.

The CSS Profile requires quite a bit more financial information than the FAFSA as well as a small fee. However, CSS Profile schools often have much more financial aid to give, Falcon said. Just like the FAFSA, you should call your financial aid office to see if there are any extra forms you could fill out, or additional scholarships that aren’t automatically considered.

Use scholarship search tools

Scholarship search tools can help you find the scholarships that best match your talents, community service contributions and academic skills. Be strategic when searching sites and pick the scholarships you’d most likely win.

Before submitting your application, study essay and scholarship rules and guidelines carefully to ensure you adapt your writing and application answers to have the best chance possible.

Search tool What it offers Where to find it
Fastweb Lists over 1.5 million awards; vets all scholarships to make sure they are legit fastweb.com
Scholarships America Free online search of thousands of scholarships scholarshipamerica.org
CollegeBoard’s Big Future Large directory of scholarships based on hobbies, interests, etc. bigfuture.collegeboard.org

Where to look for more scholarships and grants

Once you’ve exhausted your search through major websites, it’s time to look more deeply into what scholarships for current college students are available through your school, community organizations and your family’s employers. As you review the information below, make a list of everyone you’d like to contact and how.

State grants and scholarships

To identify opportunities, you can check out your state’s education department website, as well as Student Loan Hero’s guide on state grants.

The FAFSA form must be filled out first to be considered for the vast majority state grants. Each grant or scholarship may have different requirements, such as enrollment status, financial need or minimum GPA, Falcon said.

School scholarships

School scholarships and grants are a tremendous resource for students, and there are tons of scholarships for college sophomores and beyond. In fact, major scholarships are often awarded to third- and fourth-year students. Independent returning students may also receive financial aid.

The financial aid office at your school is a good resource for identifying these opportunities, as is the office for returning or non-traditional students. Just keep in mind that if you get more college scholarship money, it may affect your other financial aid. To avoid that issue, also ask your financial aid counselor about access to tuition waivers and other discounts, too.

Look elsewhere on campus for scholarships too. If you’re declaring a major at a designated college or program within your university, for example, you might ask about awards to study in that particular field.

Scholarships for college student, by major
Art
Business
Communications
Computer science
Criminal justice
Education
Engineering
History
Journalism
Business
Music
Photography
Medical school
Nursing school

Local service groups

To learn about scholarships from local service groups, contact your former high school guidance counselor, your current financial aid office and conduct a well-defined online search.

Let your former high school counselor know your interests and talents and ask if you can remain on the list for their scholarship newsletter while you are in college. Also, ask if they can send you an email when a new scholarship that could work for you shows up.

The good news is that since you’re now in college, you have a college financial aid office in addition to your high school counselor. Go to your college financial aid office as well and ask where to find scholarship postings. They may be posted online and on bulletin boards around campus.

Another potential spot to find community-based scholarships is through community foundations, said Pam Andrews, a college admissions coach and scholarship strategist at The Scholarship Shark. You can search online for community organizations in your city, county and state.

Corporate scholarships

Your parents also should check with their employer’s human resources department for company scholarships, Andrews said. Additionally, you may qualify for a scholarship from your own employer, whether you work full time or part time.

In addition to scholarships, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement for courses you take that are relevant to their business. For instance, if you are a teller at a bank, you may get reimbursed for finance classes. Tuition reimbursement is very common in grad school. The work co-op office on campus is a great resource for finding employers that are willing to chip in for the cost of attending college.

Read up on scholarships for college students…
First-generation students
Asian students
Black students
Latino and Hispanic students
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program students
Minority students
Community service
Military service
Professional development
Single parents
Student-athletes
Out-of-state students

When scholarships for current college students aren’t enough

It’s difficult — but not impossible — to pay for your education with grants and scholarships for college students. For any shortfall, there are always work-study programs and, yes, student loans.

If you can’t tap college savings or generate enough income to help overcome a remaining gap in your cost of attendance, student loans could be useful, at least in moderation.

You should always consider federal student loans before resorting to private student loans. Compare rates on private loans with your federal options just to make sure you’re getting the best rate, though. And before you decide to go with a private loan, always consider whether you may need federal student loan protections, such as income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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