Help your kids graduate college with little to no debt by encouraging them to apply for scholarships. Here’s where to find free money and strategies for winning college scholarships!
My goal is to raise my kids to manage money well and stay out of (unnecessary) debt.
Many people would argue that college is an important and necessary debt, and that that debt is unavoidable.
Related: Alternatives to college: why they might be a good idea for your teen
Before you send your kids off to college, make sure they seriously evaluate why they want to go to college.
Are they going because:
- All of their friends are?
- Everyone says they need to?
Related: Realistic alternatives to 4-year college and why one might be a great idea for your teen
If your kids have honestly evaluated the reasons for going to college, and have a solid plan for what they want to accomplish, then they should definitely apply for scholarships because:
One very real way to significantly reduce college costs (and even eliminate them!) is by applying for scholarships.
Scholarships are free money that you don’t have to pay back!
Read this story about a gal who paid for her entire college education with scholarships!
This takes work and diligence, but it can be done!
Applying for scholarships might sound tedious, but if your teenager is ambitious they can graduate college with significantly less debt than their peers (or even debt-free!)
Related: Graduate college debt-free
Let’s take a quick peek at the general types of scholarships available:
Types of Scholarships:
Merit-based scholarships are basically rewarded for talent. If you meet the criteria (for example, straight A’s) then you can apply. Most often merit scholarships are in areas such as:
- academic (for grades/GPA, GPA)
- special-interest (This can include student background (like First Generation scholarships), demographic group scholarships (military families or graduate students), or underrepresented groups (minority or female).)
- Financial Need
Students may qualify if they come from a low-income home and scholarships are generally awarded based on parent income.
Note: Don’t ignore hobbies. There are truly thousands of scholarships out there for all types of people and interests, not just athletes and kids who straight A’s. There are scholarships for people who volunteer in the local community, do unique crafts, play an instrument, speak a foreign language, etc.
Do NOT pay for scholarships. Remember, scholarships are free money for college. Avoid scams by not paying for scholarships.
Basic Tips Before Starting the Scholarship Search
- Start as early as possible.
Don’t let your teen wait until they are a senior – have them start looking when they are a freshman!)
- Apply to as many as you qualify for!
Years ago, I read an article about a girl who diligently applied to scholarships when she started high school and eventually won enough small scholarships to pay for her entire college tuition! How great it would be to start out adult life with NO debt! Check out a more recent story about a gal who won numerous small scholarships and graduated debt-free.
- Follow all instructions carefully.
Make sure your teen meets all the qualifications and fill out the application properly (and answers questions completely!).
- Keep applying to scholarships while you are in college!
People don’t realize that you can still apply to scholarship while you are attending college.
Where to Find Scholarships
While the large, national scholarship are popular and might be worth a lot of money, they will be difficult to win as your teen will have more competition.
My advice is to start locally and apply to the most specific, local scholarships first, where your teen probably already has connections and knows a lot of people. This, plus the fact that the applicant pool is smaller and there is less competition, will increase the chances that your teen will receive one (or many) of the local scholarships.
Plus, organizations like to give money to people they know and appreciate.
Start in your small circle (your high school, town, county) and then expand to your larger circle (state, region, country).
Have your teen check out these local organizations to start with:
- High school financial aid office and career center.
Have your teen check in with their own high school counselor first to ask about scholarship lists and any tips.
Note: Your teen can also check out the career centers at nearby high schools!
Libraries are a wealth of information and reference librarians are extremely knowledgable and helpful. (It’s their job!)
- Any local religious, business, or civic groups or community organizations
Places like Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce, or your place of worship.
- Community connections
Ask your friends, family, and co-workers for any suggestions, ideas, and tips on scholarships.
- Groups related to your teen’s intended field of study
Does your teenager know someone working in a field of study that they intend to pursue? Have them ask that person about scholarships or funds at their place of work or any other tips they might have.
- Affiliations with your family or ethnic background
Don’t overlook any family affiliations (job-related or community involvement, for example) or ethnic background.
Winning many smaller, little-known scholarships can add up quickly!
After they’ve checked out local sources, move to larger, more national scholarships too. Try some of these online tools for finding other scholarships:
- The College Board
- Tuition Funding Sources
- Peterson’s Scholarship Search
- Big Future (College Board)
- Broke Scholar
- JLV College Counseling
- Student Scholarships (.org)
Make sure to use the filters on each site to find scholarships that are a good fit.
When to Apply for Scholarships?
Have your teen check the scholarship requirements and application deadline (for example, some scholarships are offered only to high school seniors).
Before starting applications, your teen should gather these generally required documents:
- Transcripts from all schools
- Cover Letters
- Letters of Recommendation (from teachers and other community leaders/bosses)
- Resume Copies
Note: Your teenager may have to write different essays, but sometimes essays can be reused (or modified and reused).
PRO tip: Start a spreadsheet to keep track of the scholarship by listing:
- Scholarship Name
- Due Date
- Check Box (to mark after applied)
Encourage your teen to ask their high school for the list of senior award nights from the previous year. These local companies are giving away money, so your teenager can contact them to ask about scholarships, application tips, and what they look for in a scholarship winner.
Scholarship Application Tips:
- Be honest
Always be honest and truthful when filling out applications.
- Complete all parts
Pay close attention to all requirements and make sure your teen meets them.
- Get the application in before the deadline
Committees might not even look at late applications.
- Prepare for any scholarship interviews
Related: First-Job Tips for Teens: Plus, Interview Tips
Pro Strategies for Winning College Scholarships
Seek out and apply to as many as you can, especially local ones that have fewer applicants.
- Don’t discount “small” dollar amounts
Everyone wants a huge scholarship, but many little dollar amounts can still add up to big bucks!
- Be confident
Confident people shine and colleges want applicants who know what they want and what their goals are. Tell your teen to not be afraid to show what they are worth!
Lastly, encourage your teens to not give up! If they keep applying, they will win some scholarships!
Help your kids get a head start on college costs by encouraging them to apply diligently for scholarships. What a great gift if they can start their adult life with little or no debt! These strategies for winning college scholarships are sure to help. What other tips would you give to kids? Any unique scholarships that you have found?