You hear of many lucky students who sailed through college on a full scholarship. Then you hear of others who are struggling to payoff their massive student loans. So does one have to be very lucky to get a scholarship that covers all college expenses? Is it very hard to land a full scholarship?
Luck has a role in everything we do, but to get a good scholarship, there are 3 prerequisites:
1) Apply for federal aid with FAFSA application and other state aid,
2) Apply on time and much ahead of the application deadlines and,
3) Apply for as many additional scholarships as possible so you greatly increase your chances of getting a good scholarship.
So getting a scholarship is neither hard nor easy, it just takes considerable planning and a lot of initial work while applying for as many scholarships and grants as possible.
Dates, Aid and Applications
Some colleges in the US have extended the last date for submitting scholarship application from May 1 to June 1 this 2020. The date by which students need to confirm their college enrollment has also been set at June 1. For exact dates at your college, be sure to contact them directly.
Filling out the FAFSA application becomes available from October of the previous year until June 30th. But it is best not to wait until June and the sooner the FAFSA is completed the better. Individual states also have their own FAFSA application deadlines which can vary anywhere from January to June though there is likely to be some extension in view of the pandemic this year.
There are expected to be much fewer international students this year due to the global visa and travel restrictions. This will result in a huge financial loss for colleges who will therefore be unable to offer enough financial aid to their US students.
Applying for US scholarships starts with the FAFSA which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application helps determine a family’s expected contribution for college and to figure out the eligibility for need-based aid.
Once you fill this application, a Student Aid Report (or SAR) is generated which will be required for receiving federal aid and when you apply for state scholarships. For more information on other college-specific scholarships, be sure to approach the college’s financial aid office.
Though the application can be filled on paper, or a PDF form or completely online, completing the FAFSA application completely online is the most preferred. There are lesser chances of errors online, and its faster and a student can list up to 10 shortlisted colleges online while the paper form has space for only 4 colleges.
For detailed information on FAFSA, refer to our article titled How to Apply for College Scholarships in the US. Also, FastWeb has several cool checklists, calendars and resources for college students and high school seniors as follows:
2) FAFSA & Financial Aid Info – Towards the right of the page in the side bar, there are additional documents to download such as the Student Calendars and much more.
3) Evaluating Financial Aid Award Letters – The key takeaway in the award letters is that parents and students should consider their out-of-pocket expenses and not the net cost when comparing financial awards.
Also, there is no standard format for these letters, so pay close attention to each one separately. The last page of this pdf link also lists 10 Questions to Ask the College Financial Aid Administrators.
4) Financial Aid Tips – As for writing essays, FastWeb advises that if you find writing student essays hard (for the scholarship applications), then start by recording your answers loudly and then put those answers in writing and then further expand on them.
Some important financial aid tips include:
1) Start saving for college as soon as possible as they will add up and make college expenses easier to handle
2) Apply for as many scholarships as possible to maximize your chances of sufficient financial aid to cover all of your college expenses
3) Always prefer scholarships, aid and saving money to taking student loans. Student loans are a huge future liability and it is best to save as much money as possible to avoid getting into the trap of student loans.
Scholarships and Grants
Once you have your SAR report from submitting your FAFSA application, you can start to apply for many college scholarships, both on your own and upon referral from your chosen colleges.
1) Federal Grants and Work-Study funds
When you’ve completed your FAFSA and upon applying to a college, the college’s financial aid office with send you an award letter stating which federal and state grants you qualify for. The US federal government provides over $150 billion dollars every year of grants and other aid to students so this is the best option to start your scholarship search from. There are some grants which may involve work-study programs depending on the type of college that provides such programs.
For more information on the types of federal aid available, refer to the FederalStudentAid website.
2) State grants
The College Promise program is a state scholarship that could help pay the reminder of your college expenses that are not covered by a federal scholarship. So before you consider taking any form of loans, try your best to not take loans but instead search for state grants to cover the remainder of your college expenses. Here is a post detailing more about the state scholarships as part of the college promise program.
Starting in 2020, CollegeBoard.org is offering a $5 million in scholarships to students as part of its Opportunity scholarships. 25 lucky students have already received this scholarship in 2020. The good thing about this scholarship is that students become eligible for more aid as they complete the 6 college application steps.
For example, building the college list is worth $500, the practicing ST is another $500, and culminating in FAFSA and the applying to the colleges for the entire $40,000 scholarship eligibility.
There is also a scholarships search and college search feature at BigFuture.
4) U.S. Department of Labor’s Scholarship Finder
This brings up a search of over 8000 scholarships that have something for everyone ranging from $1000 to $10,000 as a one-time award. There are also many awards for women, or minorities and so on and for just about everyone else too.
Be sure to also Explore Careers and take a Self-Assessment of your own interests and skills and how they would match specific careers. Compare different occupations to determine the type of education required for each occupation. There are also additional job search and training resources on this website.
The contacts for various state grants can be found here.
5) The Clark website
This lists many interesting scholarship options including the Fastweb college search and many more. Be sure to checkout this website and to apply for all the scholarships you’re eligible for here.
Getting scholarships to cover a majority of your 4 year college expenses is definitely possible with careful planning and by applying for scholarships and college admissions much ahead of time. So do not wait until the last moment, start early, write your SAT/ ACT early and get as much help as possible from your high school as well for your college planning.
Be sure to ask for help from your family and parents and more than ever, just be positive and confident knowing very well that you can definitely get good college scholarships if you stay focused and committed to finding the money for college.
It’s just a question of your intentions and interest and follow up work with scholarship applications. That’s just all it takes to complete college in a breeze with ample scholarship money.
Also, another important thing to note is that your careful spending and living habits while in college will help you to stay on budget and not exceed them. So skip the expensive housing, just find a good and comfortable housing, eat simple and healthy, focus on studies and less on shopping and you’ll be all set.
You have the rest of your life for the consumerism and shopping, so get on with college, keep it simple and graduate with zero loans and move on to a great career!