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Scholarships: How to earn free money

May 13, 2018

They say that nothing is ever truly free, but with a little bit of work, some extra free money for college can be earned. College scholarships are an underrated source of funding that many people forget when it comes time to pay the bill. Independent college scholarships can be used to fill the gap between financial aid awards and the total cost of college.

There are a million different types of scholarships out there, from the serious to the wacky. There are scholarships for left-handed students, for ice cream shop workers, and even an award for the best prom dress and tux made of duct tape  (Yes, this is real!). Those are just three examples, there are many more related to unique and interesting themes that students can apply for. By focusing on unique traits, students can find niche groups with smaller applicant pools, leading to greater chances of winning.

Scholarships are awarded by hundreds of different organizations, from credit unions to community centers, stores, and various foundations. Because of this, there’s no standardization with the process. However, most scholarship applications include an essay and a resume.

The most important thing to know about scholarships is that they are gifts. They don’t have to be repaid like loans do; it is free money.

Searching for Scholarships:

 So where can this money be found? With various websites, such as, Chegg, and, the internet is a great resource.  On these sites, users create an account, input basic information such as GPA, and receive results for scholarships. These websites are known to send multiple emails a day, so one helpful tip would be to create a scholarship specific email account to register for these sites and keep everything organized. An even simpler option is the My College Corner Scholarship Search where $10 billion in funds can be found. Just use specific search criteria including award type, field of study and related keywords, to help you locate and apply for scholarships right now. Also, don’t forget your local high schools. Many communities offer local scholarships to students who can only apply if they live in a certain town, county, or state. These may be less competitive given the smaller applicant pool.

Timing is Everything: 

Some scholarships are one-time awards and others are recurring, with a guaranteed award over multiple years. Multi-year scholarships can be rare and highly competitive. In most cases, a scholarship is a one-time award that requires a new application each year. Do not wait too long to apply for scholarships as the best ones attract many other applicants. Some students collapse timeframes by developing a few “go-to” essays that may be reused over several scholarship applications with minimal edits, requiring less work for multiple submissions.

Scholarships and financial aid eligibility: 

Keep in mind that scholarship funds are weighed as part of a total financial aid package given to the student by the school.  Remember, scholarships are awarded based on merit while financial aid (aka need-based aid) is provided based on household financial information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Information on the FAFSA specifically assesses the “financial need” of the student, and in simplest terms, the higher the income and assets, the less financial need a student would have. When a scholarship is awarded to a student, this would decrease the overall financial need and potentially reduce eligibility for certain financial aid funds. The best way to manage this process is by communicating with your school’s financial aid office and learning about their specific policies regarding adjustments to financial aid eligibility when awarded a scholarship from a third party.

Know the chances:

Always keep a positive outlook, but also know the odds of actually winning certain scholarships. Some programs receive thousands of application requests but only provide scholarships to a handful of recipients. Other foundations may fly under the radar and receive a limited number of applications, increasing the odds to qualify. The scholarship organization website will likely list how many awards are available each year.

Apply for many:

Since there are no guarantees, it’s probably a good idea to apply for many scholarship opportunities to improve the odds of getting one. Since there are numerous scholarships out there, and many students applying for them, focus on adding something unique to set the essay apart from others. Don’t be discouraged, keep applying.

Stay organized:

Keep an organized calendar for scholarship deadlines to stay on track with application requirements. Don’t get overwhelmed at the last minute. Instead, give enough lead time to complete all the application requirements, like essays, projects, and interviews, in a reasonable fashion. It’s helpful to keep a folder with envelopes, stamps, and extra copies of official paperwork needed for applications such as transcripts, portfolio work, and letters of recommendation, as some scholarships require this information to be mailed.  The biggest problem with applying for many scholarships is being overwhelmed and missing opportunities.

Continue to apply:

 There’s a big focus on scholarships for freshman year, but a tendency to forget about them after that. Don’t follow that practice. Continue to place an emphasis on applying for scholarships throughout college. If eligible to win every year, continue to apply.

Stay motivated:

 It does take a bit of time but spending 90 minutes writing an essay that earns $2,000 for college is worth it, especially when it reduces the need for student loans.  Stay the course, apply for many and keep a positive mindset about the scholarship opportunities available.