If you want to go to college, the expense doesn’t need to hold you back. You may need to take out student loans, but there are many types available with great interest rates and payment plans. The federal government also provides free money through grants, which can greatly reduce the amount of money you’ll need to borrow. An often-ignored source of free money is scholarships. Many students assume they won’t qualify, so they don’t bother applying, but thousands of dollars sit untouched each year.

Many Options

There are many types of scholarships out there, and you may find one that is just right for you. Awarding organizations set their own guidelines and requirements, which could be merit based, such as for exceptional grades or amazing athletic ability. Other scholarships are designated for students of certain ethnicities, religions, or interests. Some companies have scholarships available for their employees’ children or students who are pursuing a degree in their field. Some scholarships have very specific requirements that might seem strange, such as interest in a certain type of food, using a certain brand of product to create something new, or even having a unique name. If you think you might qualify, it’s worth the effort to apply.

Do Your Homework

So how are you supposed to find all this free money? Your first step should be to check with the financial aid office or career center at your college (or high school). Many high school counselors also maintain a list of available scholarships and sources of scholarships. The US Department of Labor offers a free online scholarship search tool, which lists many types of financial aid, including federal and state scholarships. If you know what you’re going to major in, contact professional organizations in that field to inquire about possible funding sources. Any community organizations, churches, foundations, or civic groups you’re involved in may also be able to help.

As you’re searching, keep an eye out for due dates, even starting when you’re in high school. Many award decisions are based a year in advance, and the application process can be quite extensive. Each scholarship will have different application procedures, and it’s important to follow all the instructions completely. One missed detail or error could lead to your application being eliminated, so don’t let a silly mistake cost you free money. Be alert to possible fraud. You should never have to pay for a scholarship application or provide your credit card or bank information.

Help is Available

Preparing for college is such an exciting time of exploring future possibilities and making big decisions. If you’re ready for college, but aren’t sure how to pay for it, don’t forget about scholarships. If you have questions, and especially if you’ll be taking out student loans, give me a call so I can help you come up with a plan.