Figuring out how to pay for college is no small task. In fact, it can be terrifying for both parents and students alike.
Student loans have become the status quo, but you don’t have to accept that debt one of many hoops you have to jump through to get a degree.
We’re not suggesting it will be easy. In fact, it might be even more terrifying than taking on some debt, until the loans come due, of course. (At which point, you might wish you’d read this whole article.) But here is what no one is talking about: you can get through college debt-free.
You can get through school debt-free. It requires intention, creativity, and hard work, but it’s absolutely possible if you put your mind to it.
We’ve got one word for you: Scholarships. If you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I applied for my school’s academic scholarship,”—keep reading.
There’s a whole universe of scholarships for the taking if you know how to work the system.
Scholarships are debt-free monies that can be applied to tuition as well as many other education-related expenses such as books, room, and board. The best part is that they do not have to be paid back.
Whether you are a student that is about to go to college or already there, or a parent trying to help your child figure out how to secure scholarships to pay for college, this article will help you navigate the process to secure some debt-free cash.
Before starting your scholarship search, it’s important to understand the scope of scholarships available.
Many parents and students question whether or not scholarships are realistic or worth the effort. Let us clear up some myths that might help you answer that question for yourself:
Myth #1: Students must be a superstar athlete or an Einstein whiz-kid to receive a scholarship.
Truth: There are scholarships out there for so much more than just grades and athletics. There are plenty of scholarships out there without any GPA requirement and most scholarships have nothing to do with athletics. Actually, athletic scholarships are far and few between – but that’s beside the point. The point is students do not need a perfect 4.0 GPA nor amazing athletic skills to receive scholarships. The average Joe can absolutely apply and win!
Myth #2: Students have to wait until senior year in high school to apply.
Truth: There are scholarships out there for students as young as kindergarten! Sure, they may not be as common as those for older students but the point is that students can (and should) start applying early. The ideal time is no later than the junior year in high school. Now, if your child is older than that, don’t worry. That leads us to our third myth!
Myth #3: Students who didn’t receive a free ride or any scholarships by high school graduation, missed their chance.
Truth: Students can apply for scholarships all the way through college. That’s right. Even if a student didn’t apply for any scholarships prior to college, they can still start now. As long as they have at least one year of college remaining, they can still apply for scholarship money.
So if you are a parent and you have children in college, or if you are currently a college student, scholarships are still an option and will be until graduation.
While there are some other major myths that I talk about in my free scholarship webinar, I want to leave you with three actionable steps you can use to find your debt-free money!
Step 1: Cast A Wide Net
The number of places you can find scholarships are endless. The best place to start is closest to home, such at a local high school, the university or college and any local organizations that may offer scholarships. These are often less competitive as they are less advertised and specific to students in your area. You can also look through online scholarship search engines for scholarships.
One quick tip: Create a separate email when registering on scholarship search engines. This will help you avoid a bunch of emails flooding your main inbox. The list I originally used for these search engines now has more than 20,000 unread emails, mostly from scholarship search engines.
Step 2: Beware Of Scams
While the word scam may come off as harsh, “sweepstake scholarships” are pretty close to it. These are the scholarships where students can enter basic information in just a couple minutes and are then entered to win money for college. I hate to break it to you but these are not worth anyone’s time. I have been in the scholarship game for nearly a decade and I have never met a single soul that has won money from these. I promise that if students put the amount of time it would take to fill out twenty sweepstake scholarships into an essay instead, it will pay off way more than if submitting these types of applications.
Step 3: Collect Critical Information Ahead Of Time
Many scholarship applications ask for similar information. For example, students may need to submit a GPA and test scores, a list of activities, recommendation letters, transcripts and more. If you can begin collecting that information now, you can reuse it for future applications. Little tricks like this can save students tons of time when applying for scholarships.
Step 4: Write A Strong Personal Statement To Customize
Many scholarships ask questions like “Name a time you displayed leadership….” or “Describe your future plans. How can college help you get there?” Many times, a student’s personal statement will include answers to questions like these. If students invest more time and effort into creating one strong personal statement that they can reuse for scholarships, they can save time and increase their chances of receiving scholarship money.
Another quick tip: Have a professor or English teacher review the essay each time it is revised. When creating a core essay and reusing it, it’s easy to overlook silly little mistakes because we are so used to seeing the essay.
There is an alternative to debt.
Don’t underestimate the amount of scholarship money available or your ability to secure a piece of the pie! Knowing is the half the battle and now you know.
About the Author: Jocelyn Paonita, is the founder of The Scholarship System, a blog and online course that helps families pay for college with scholarships and avoid student loan debt. They’ve helped their students secure more than $805,550 in scholarships so far. Follow them on Facebook or check out their grab their Free Admissions & Scholarship Checklist for Parents to help your children through the process.