Every year, the Department of Education and the country’s colleges and universities give out about $46 billion in grants and scholarships, according to Debt.org. On top of that, another $3.3 billion is given out through private sources, such as churches, foundations, service associations, companies, and other organizations.
That’s almost $50 billion in free money up for grabs every single year. And it might be easier than you think to get a scholarship, even if you’re already in school.
Here’s what you need to know about getting scholarships for current college students. We’ve also included a few scholarship opportunities you can pursue.
1. Fill out the FAFSA each year
Before you start applying for scholarships, be sure you’ve turned in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the year. Even if you don’t qualify for federal grants, many colleges use the information you provide to decide whether to offer you school-based scholarships.
In fact, because the FAFSA takes into account your family’s changing finances, you might qualify for different types of aid this year. When my sister entered college the year after I did, my family’s money situation was considered different enough that I ended up with additional financial aid options. So, keep filling out the FAFSA.
2. Set up a CSS Profile
Next, consider setting up a College Scholarship Services (CSS) Profile. Your CSS Profile can be used to help you access more than $9 billion in free money, according to the College Board, which manages the profile.
Some schools, such as George Washington University, review your CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA before doling out financial aid awards. You might have access to a greater number of scholarships from different colleges when you fill out this profile.
3. Keep applying for scholarships throughout college
Even though I was awarded a full-tuition scholarship as an undergraduate, I still continued applying for scholarships for current college students. My financial aid only took care of tuition and fees. I still had to buy books and pay living costs. Even small scholarships helped with those costs.
I’m not the only one, either. Jocelyn Paonita Pearson, the founder of The Scholarship System, amassed a portion of her more than $126,000 in scholarships while attending college.
“Just because you’re in school already, it doesn’t mean you have to stop applying for scholarships,” she said. “In fact, you might have an easier time getting merit-based scholarships because you have more experience and accomplishments now.”
National scholarship competitions are often the most difficult to win due to the number of applicants. However, they also offer you the chance at a large award that can cover multiple years of schooling. Additionally, some of these national competitions focus less on grades and athletics and more on creativity and passion.
However, if you want a better chance, it can make sense to focus on smaller scholarships, even if you’ll need more of them to meet your needs.
4. Live Mas Scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation
You don’t have to write an essay or submit your grades to qualify for the Live Mas Scholarship. Instead, you turn in a video (two minutes or less) describing your life’s passion.
This scholarship is open to anyone between the ages of 16 and 24. Awards range from $2,500 to $25,000. The Taco Bell Foundation plans to give away $10 million by 2022.
5. Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway
If you’re between the ages of 18 and 24, you might be eligible for the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway. In order to enter, you need to have a valid Facebook account and submit a video. You’ll also need to describe in 350 characters or less how you’ll change the world.
If you make it into the grand prize round, you’ll get to compete for an award of up to $100,000. Runner-ups win awards of $25,000 and consolation prize winners get $2,500.
6. Atlas Shrugged essay contest from the Ayn Rand Institute
Are you a fan of Ayn Rand and her works? The Atlas Shrugged essay contest offers you the chance to receive up to $10,000 by writing about this novel. Essays must be between 800 and 1,600 words long and be written in English.
Judges make all the decisions about winners. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation count heavily in the calculations. The Ayn Rand Institute also won’t provide guidance or feedback related to essays, although it does offer a list of resources.
7. Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship
Named after the long-serving senator, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship offers up to $7,500 per year. To apply, you must be a full-time sophomore or junior. You should be working toward a research career in the natural sciences, engineering, or math.
In order to apply, you need to find a Goldwater campus representative. If there isn’t one for your school, you can call 507-931-8335 for help on next steps.
8. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship
If you’re a college sophomore or junior and passionate about issues related to the environment or Native American nations, you might qualify for the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship. It’s worth up to $7,000.
To apply, you need to contact the Udall representative on your campus for an application. An essay, transcripts, and three letters of recommendation are all needed in order for your application to be considered complete.
9. National Scholarship from TheDream.US
The National Scholarship is a little different since it’s aimed at “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
You can apply for this scholarship if you’re a Dreamer and have graduated (or are about to graduate) from high school or a community college. This scholarship is intended to help you continue your studies. You need to attend a partner college and have a GPA of at least 3.0 to qualify. You also need to show your DACA or TPS status.
Awards of up to $29,000 are available to help you complete your bachelor’s degree. You can get up to an additional $1,000 per year as a stipend to help pay for books, supplies, and transportation.
10. Check with your college or university for scholarships
Some colleges and universities offer automatic financial aid based on your situation. They might use the FAFSA to include need-based scholarships in your financial package. In fact, there are some schools that let you attend for free, including Harvard and Columbia, if you meet certain income criteria.
Additionally, some universities offer automatic merit-based scholarships based on your grades. For example, BYU-Idaho offers scholarships for current college students if you have at least a 3.75 GPA. The higher your GPA, the more tuition the school will cover.
Other scholarships might be offered, depending on your school. My undergraduate alma mater, Southern Utah University, offers different awards through its departments.
The financial aid office can provide you with information about available funding, and how to apply for school-based money. You might be surprised at what’s available to you through your educational institution.
11. Local service organizations
Check with local civic and affinity groups to see if they offer scholarships. The Daughters of the American Revolution, for example, offers a variety of opportunities, including scholarships for current college students. Depending on your major, year in school, and other factors, you might be eligible for aid.
Other organizations that offer scholarships include:
Local chapters also sometimes offer financial help to current college students, although the aid might be based on location. My city’s Rotary Club offers scholarships to those attending local universities, for example.
Many of these scholarships are small, though. It makes sense to apply for several different scholarships to help you reach your goals.
12. Apply for smaller scholarships
There are a large number of smaller scholarships available for just about anyone, said Olivia Valdes, a college admissions consultant and founder of Zen Admissions.
“From visual artists to scientific researchers to scuba divers, search for scholarships related to your specific interests and goals,” said Valdes. “Remember, small scholarships add up.”
Indeed, a few hundred dollars here and there can go a long way toward paying for school costs. Looking for awards through the National Express Auto Transport or the Western Golf Association can be one way to pay your education costs.
Additionally, we offer scholarships twice a year to students who need help achieving their educational dreams.
Fastweb offers you the opportunity to find targeted awards based on your interests and abilities. There are a lot of small scholarships that are easy to apply for.
Another great place to look for scholarships is Chegg. It offers a robust search feature, allowing you to choose whether you’re looking for scholarships for current college students. Due dates are highly visible, making it easy to prioritize.
Cappex helps you find money for school with a simple search form and more than $11 billion in results. On top of that, Cappex features some scholarships that you can apply for with a single click.
Just what it sounds like, Scholarships.com can help you access billions of dollars in funding. You can use the site’s algorithm to find a match, or you can take matters into your own hands and use the database to find awards based on a variety of factors.
17. Scholarship Monkey
Use Scholarship Monkey to search for scholarships in different categories. You can find minority scholarships and awards based on your field of study. You can also set up a profile and have matches emailed to you.
18. College Board
Even though they’re best-known for standardized testing and stats about college tuition costs, the College Board can also help you pay for school. Use the search function to find scholarships, as well as internships and other financial aid that matches your situation.
While many scholarship search websites are free, Scholly is a little different. You need to pay $2.99 a month in order to join the website. However, once you pay to join, you’re matched with opportunities that can provide you with a variety of awards to help you pay for college.
20. Don’t give up on scholarships for current college students
If you want to reduce the amount of student loan debt you need to get through school, applying for scholarships the whole time you’re in college can be a good strategy.
While federal and private student loans offer you the chance to pay for school, they have to be repaid with interest. Scholarships, on the other hand, are free. You don’t have to repay them.
Pearson said to create a system that helps you apply for more scholarships. “Keep a stock of stories you can use in essays and cover letters,” she suggested. “Get a system down where you can use the same materials over and over again, just tweaking them for each award. It will go faster, making the whole process more efficient.”
Just because you’re already in college doesn’t mean you’re out of luck with scholarships. You can continue getting them as long as you stay organized and remain persistent.
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