Tips on How to Get Scholarships

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Financial aid administrators offer advice to students on how to get scholarships.

Families often hear about the millions of scholarship dollars that go unused each year, an anecdote that has been repeated so many times that it is accepted as fact. But many families soon realize that this pot of scholarships at the end of the rainbow is a myth: while there are scholarships that go unused, much of the money included in that figure comes from employers' tuition remission programs.

But that doesn't mean there are not scholarships out there, and with a few simple steps you can increase your odds of obtaining scholarships.

  • Consult the financial aid office: The largest amount of financial aid comes from federal, state, and institutional grants and tuition discounts. Your financial aid office can help you find information on available scholarships, grants, and loans according to your needs and background.
  • Contact your academic department: If you have already decided on a major, your academic department may be aware of awards designated for students in your area of study. The student aid office is not always privy to this information, so be sure to check both.
  • Use a free scholarship search engine: Ask the student aid office for recommendations of free scholarship search sites other students have found useful. Online searches let you focus on scholarships that fit your personal characteristics, helping you target your search to only those scholarships for which you are most likely to qualify. Some sites bombard users with promotional scholarships that may turn out to be advertisements in disguise, however, so make sure you know what you are signing up for when and if you give out your personal information.
  • Never assume: Don't believe that because you don't have all A's and B's or that you can't shoot a 3 pointer, there's nothing available to you. There are scholarships available based on hobbies, interests, background, financial need, etc. According to FinAid.com, there's even a $1,000 scholarship for a left-handed student. Seek out local and national organizations and associations in your areas of interest to see whether any scholarship opportunities exist.
  • Write the essay: No one likes to write essays, so use that fact to your advantage. Scholarships that require essays receive fewer applicants, giving you a better chance of qualifying. Keep copies of all the application materials you submit; often essays and other application materials can be tweaked and used again for future applications. Be sure to thoroughly proofread before submitting the application.
  • Stack up the small scholarships: Studies show that families often overlook scholarships that are less than $500. You may be thinking that these awards won't even make a dent in your financial needs, but adding up multiple small awards can prove to be a benefit in your financial quest.
  • Apply early: The best time to apply is NOW! Waiting too long will result in missed deadlines. Seniors should start filling out applications to meet the early or mid-fall application deadlines. Don't wait to be accepted to a college to research and apply for private scholarships. If you don't receive a scholarship the first time around, don't get discouraged. Most scholarships are not limited to freshmen; you may have better luck the following year.

Even without scholarships, families can still afford college. Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and contact your school's financial aid office to find out what federal, state, and institutional aid you might qualify for. Finding money for college is a lot like taking classes: The way to succeed is to do your homework.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 14,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. Each year, financial aid professionals help more than 16 million students receive funding for postsecondary education. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. In addition to its member Web site at http://www.NASFAA.org, the Association offers a Web site with financial aid information for parents and students at http://www.StudentAid.org.

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