Really Free Money: Strategies for Scholarships

teenage student giving thumb up while using laptop

If you’re like most college students, your financial aid package is a mixture of loans, grants, work study, and scholarships. And if you’re like many of your peers, you may be pretty vague about the details of your package. No question about it, college financing is confusing; that’s why colleges and universities employ experienced professionals to staff their financial aid offices.

But even if you avoid financial details, here’s one principle you need to remember: you want to borrow as little money as possible. You’ll have to pay back loans, whereas you won’t have to pay back scholarships and grants. Therefore, you want to apply for as many scholarships and grants you can.

Unfortunately, many students don’t bother applying for scholarships. Often, they assume they won’t qualify; sometimes, they think the application process isn’t worth the award. Above all, they’re simply unaware of the breadth of scholarships available. The fact is, if you’re a college student in decent academic standing, you qualify for scholarships! Here are some tips to maximize your scholarship earnings:

Get Creative – and Confident. Devote time to researching possible scholarships. There are scholarships for academic excellence, of course, but also for students from certain backgrounds or geographic areas, cancer survivors or their family members, and individuals with specific career goals or interests. Start by applying for the Returning Student Scholarship at Castleton (due March 4th). Next, look at resources in your community: businesses and service clubs, such as the Rotary or Lions Club, often offer scholarships. VSAC maintains a database of scholarships for Vermont residents (also due March 4th). Finally, check out Fastweb, College Board, and Finaid.org to search for scholarships. On Fastweb and other sites, you may have to spend some time filling out questionnaires to be matched with scholarships; however, your effort could be worth hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars.

Get Organized. Make checklist of all of the items you’ll need – essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc. – to apply for each scholarship. (You’re applying for than one, naturally.) Include the scholarship’s deadline at the top of the checklist. You may even want to maintain a folder for each application.

Get Deadlines. Remember: the deadline is the absolute latest date you can apply. Play it safe, and make sure your application materials are ready at least a week in advance.

Get Help. If you have any questions about any aspect of your scholarships applications, check in with a faculty member or any of the counselors at Academic Support. We can also assist you with scholarship essays. Whether you need help getting started or want someone to review your draft, you can visit the Writing Clinic or schedule an appointment with Bill Wiles, our Writing Specialist. Call 468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment.

Like college itself, applying for scholarships takes time, effort, and organization. Expect to devote several hours to each scholarship application. Although you may prefer to use your free time to relax or socialize, think of your scholarship search as a part-time job: one that will help you on your journey to your ultimate goal. Now, that’s exciting!

Good luck and don’t forget to stop by with questions!

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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