Figuring out how to pay for college can be one of the most difficult parts of being a high school senior. First you have to figure out which schools you want to go to. Then you have to figure out which schools you can get into. Then you have to set up visits and tours and meet with counselors and advisors all while trying to balance your school load and extracurricular activities. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this process that's ok. Most everybody does feel overwhelmed by the process of finding the right school for them. In order to make the process of paying for school a bit easier there are a few steps that you can take.
Step One: Apply For Direct Federal Aid
Scholarships Don’t Always Cover All The Cost So Have A Backup Plan
The first step you will want to take when figuring out how to pay for school is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This can be done right online and like the name suggests it is entirely free. The FAFSA can be a good way to cover some of the costs of higher education but it comes with a caveat. All the aid you receive from the FAFSA will be in the form of loans from the government. Loans that will have to be paid back. So while the FAFSA is a good starting point, that’s really all it is if you want to find a way to make paying for school more affordable because all of the loans not only need to be paid back, but will also accrue interest over the life of the loan. Because of this the FAFSA can actually make the amount of money you pay for school more in the long run due to the interest the loans collect.
As such you will also want to look for ways to pay for school that don’t come in the form of loans that gather interest throughout your life. There are a few options that don’t gather interest. One such option comes in the form of grants. Oftentimes grants are given by state governments and are given in order to make school more accessible to more people. However, grants don’t tend to cover a large portion of the cost of school so it's a good idea to pursue other avenues of financial aid. The best possible avenue to explore comes in the form of scholarships.
Step Two: Start Applying for Other Types of Aid
Scholarships Are Really The Best Form of Student Aid
Scholarships, unlike loans, don’t come with the expectation that they will be paid back one day. And as such scholarships don’t have the same drawbacks that student loans do. They don’t gather interest over your lifetime because there is no expectation that they will be paid back. They are given out in the form of essentially being a gift or grant. Once you receive the scholarship money it is yours to use to pay for school and it is not expected to be returned one day. However, that is not to say that scholarships are a magical solution that will make school absolutely free. If they were then everybody would be using them.
No, since scholarships are given out without the expectation that they will be paid back there is a lot of risk on the side of the organization, school, or foundation that gives out the scholarship. SInce they are just basically giving money away they want to make sure it is going into the best possible hands. That is why for so many scholarships there are essays that are required to be written, GPAs that need to be held, or even certain demographic qualifiers that must be met.
Nobody in the world really just gives money away to other people with no expectations. So even though scholarship money is given without the expectation that it will one day be paid back, it is given with the expectation that the person who receives the money will perform well in school. That's why there are requirements for who can get a scholarship and who can’t. Even the most charitable organization doesn’t want to just throw money down the drain. For those who give out scholarship money they want to be sure the person who receives the scholarship is going to be able to succeed in school and use that scholarship money to do well in their field of study.
Step Three: Utilize Different Resources to Track Down Scholarships
Applying to Schools Is Daunting Enough So Refine Your Scholarship Search
So how do you go about getting a scholarship to help pay for your education? Well there are a few different ways. One way is by creating a CSS Profile. CSS stands for College Scholarship Service and this service lets you directly apply for scholarships in a convenient location. However, it comes with a few requirements. First of all the school you want to attend must be on the list of schools that participate. And secondly it will cost $25 for the first school you apply to and then $16 for each additional school after that.
Besides a CSS Profile there are a few additional places you can find scholarships. One great place to start is with any of these scholarship search websites
Most of these sites let you search through scholarships by a myriad of different categories. This helps you better refine your search so that way you can cut out all the scholarships that don’t apply to you. This will make your search far more efficient and you won’t waste time applying to any scholarships that wouldn’t be right for you.
However, there are a few other places you might want to reach out to find out about scholarships that might be available to you. The first place to reach out to would be your high school counselor. They should have access to all sorts of scholarship information. They also happen to have a lot of personal data about you already on file so they can help you refine your search and find the scholarships that would be right for you. You can also check your own high schools website as this might be a place where scholarship resources have been posted.
If you have already applied to or been accepted to a school you can also reach out to their financial aid office and they can help you track down even more scholarships that might be applicable to your situation. It is literally the job of the people in the financial aid department to help students pay for their schooling, so they have a plethora of resources at their disposal that could be highly beneficial when you are searching for scholarships to help pay for school.
College is already a stressful experience without all of the added stress created by student debt in our country. If you are looking forward to attending college I highly recommend that you take the time to search for scholarships now before you pay for everything with student loans that will have to be paid back. As a college graduate with a significant chunk of student debt I can absolutely tell you that the time you take to apply for scholarships will be well worth it down the road. And if you find the process of applying to scholarships daunting, you can find a useful guide to applying to the different websites and services here. This will include things like creating a master list to help you keep track of all the different deadlines and requirements for each scholarship. Creating a small list of scholarships then expanding to a larger list is recommended as the process can be quite intimidating without overloading on essays you need to write right away.