If your family will have a new college freshman next year, this is a great time to look for scholarships that will help offset the cost of an education. Scholarships are considered "gift aid," meaning that they do not need to be repaid later. Some are one-time awards that can be used while a family's college savings continue to grow; others are renewable as long as the student remains eligible.
While we hear a lot about athletic scholarships or awards for high academic achievement, no student should overlook the possibility of earning some scholarships. Many different types of organizations offer scholarships, so casting a wide net will help students locate the opportunities they are most eligible for.
Here are some tips for finding and applying for scholarships:
• Use free scholarship aggregator sites online. There is no need to pay for a service with so many free tools available. Sites like ICANsucceed.org, scholarships.com, College Board and FastWeb all offer free searches. Students can often create profiles or filters to make the search easier.
• Use school and community resources. The school counselor's office generally has a list of local scholarships. Parents' employers, civic organizations, area businesses, and religious and community groups are all potential scholarship sources. Colleges themselves often provide scholarship awards, so it's well worth the time to explore the admission, financial aid and departmental pages of the student's top college choices.
• Complete the first application. Once one application is in, it may be easier for students to complete others. It may help to set aside time each week to search for and apply for awards. One to start with is ISL Education Lending's Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Know-How. In an hour or less, Iowa high school seniors can complete the required steps to be considered for one of 25 $2,000 college scholarships.
• Don't give up. It's important to keep looking for scholarships because sponsors make their opportunities available at various times. The search should continue during the college years too, as students may become eligible for departmental or industry-related awards later on.
• See the big picture. While smaller awards may seem insignificant compared to the total cost of college, remember that every scholarship earned allows savings to go further and reduces the need to take out student loans that have to be repaid with interest. Multiple small awards can add up quickly as well.