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Free Money for College: How Students and Parents can Find College Scholarships

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The rising cost of college and the fact that student loan debt has reached an all-time high have many families wondering if going to college is even possible. Some people are surprised to find out that you don’t need to be a straight-A student to be eligible for college scholarships.

Understanding Loans and Scholarships

Student loans are just that—loans for students. The money should be used to get an education and pay for college-related expenses. Just like car loans, mortgages, and any other type of loan you can think of, student loans must be repaid. And even though that description makes complete sense, the country is full of recent college grads who borrowed without abandon, signing paperwork and accepting borrowed money for college without fully comprehending what it meant. Some have accumulated as much as six-figure student loan debt; even many of those who owe far less are defaulting on their payments.

Scholarships, on the other hand, are a type of financial aid that does not need to be repaid. Essentially free money for college, scholarships can be awarded for a variety of reasons—good grades; high standardized test scores; excelling at sports or having other talents; race, ethnicity, religion, or gender; financial need; and your intended college major are just a few! Some scholarships come from state or local governments and many colleges and universities award scholarships to admitted students as a way to help them attend the institution.

Where to Find Scholarships

Searching for scholarships shouldn’t be a terrifying task. Always remember to fill out the FAFSA, which is used to determine your eligibility for federal and state student aid programs and often required for school-specific aid as well.

Here are seven suggestions on where to find free money for college:

1. Seek advice from your high school guidance counselor.

Guidance counselors do much more than help students schedule classes and act as sounding boards when problems arise. Most are experts in college planning and assisting students who are making decisions about their future plans. Your high school guidance department should have plenty of information about scholarships from the state, local colleges and universities, and even community organizations like churches or civic clubs such as the Kiwanis or Rotary.

2. Speak with your potential college’s financial aid department.

There’s no doubt that colleges that have approved your application want you to attend their school. This often means that their employees will do what it takes to convince you you’re a perfect fit. Their financial aid officers can help your family determine how to finance your education, which includes providing information about scholarship opportunities. Just watch out for schools that have little advice other than encouraging excessive debt or won’t take no for an answer.

3. Consult a scholarship guide book.

The Internet is an amazing resource, but flipping through a current edition scholarship handbook or guide book (such as Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants & Prizes or College Board Scholarship Handbook) may make you aware of opportunities you did not know about. You can usually find these books at booksellers as well as libraries.

4. Visit reputable websites like StateUniversity.com or The College Board’s scholarship search.

StateUniversity.com recently awarded two $500 scholarships and also offers a college financial aid guide listing scholarships, grants and other financial aid for students.

5. Find out about state scholarships.

State scholarships exist for academically talented students as well as students who are pursuing careers that are in high demand. For example, both the California Student Aid Commission and the New York State Tuition and Assistance Program help eligible students in those states pay for college. Your guidance counselor should have plenty of information about similar opportunities in your state.

6. Inquire if companies offer scholarships for employees or their children.

In addition to traditional benefits like health insurance and paid vacation time, some companies now offer scholarships for employees’ children. Have your mom or dad inquire at work, and be sure to apply if such an opportunity exists! Have a part-time job? Even supermarkets and restaurants often offer scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs for college students pursuing business-related majors.

7. Watch for scholarship scams.

Always be on the lookout for deceitful opportunities, which are—unfortunately—out there. Scholarships should never have strings attached, which means you should never have to pay an application fee or acceptance fee. Remember that sensitive personal information like your social security number should not be necessary on scholarship applications.

Good luck with your hunt for scholarships!

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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