Merit-based financial aid

Unlike student loans, scholarships don’t have to be repaid. They are, in essence, the closest thing to free money that exists in college life. And who doesn’t love free money?

Scholarships can be awarded based on several criteria, including academic merit, special talent (in intercollegiate sports, for example) and, sometimes, financial need. Many students think that they have no chance of being awarded a scholarship unless they have a GPA of 4.0. This isn’t the case at all. There are thousands of scholarships available for average students who possess a unique skill or experience outside of the academic realm, such as community involvement.

How to Get a Scholarship

Follow these easy steps to maximize your chances of being awarded a scholarship:

  • Get a head start. Start looking for scholarships at least a year before you need the money. That way, you will have plenty of time to complete the application process. Consult your school’s financial aid office and guidance counselors, your local library and, of course, the Internet. Private scholarships are offered by some corporations, civic groups and religious organizations. Check if your employer or your parents’ employers offer any scholarships.
  • Be careful. Make sure to keep a keen eye out for scholarship scams. Never pay money to apply for a scholarship. Avoid any organization offering guaranteed scholarships or scholarships on a first-come-first-served basis.
  • Do your research. Seek out obscure scholarships that no one knows about. Make note of every scholarship you’re eligible for even if you think you have no chance of getting it. Most students don’t apply because they have the same mindset, but someone has to get the money.
  • Build your resumé. Study hard, get good marks and take part in extracurricular activities.
  • Stand out. In your application, highlight what makes you unique. Organizations receive thousands of scholarship applications, so it’s important that you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.
  • Apply. Find out exactly what each organization is looking for and make sure you provide them with it. Some may ask for only a one-page resume, while others may want you to write an essay. You could be asked to provide a list of references, so have one ready. Make sure you turn in your application before the deadline.

Keeping Your Scholarship

Unlike grants, some scholarships require you to maintain certain requirements, or you risk losing the scholarship. These requirements can include:

  • Maintaining a GPA of a certain level.
  • Participating on a team.
  • Performing community service.
  • Not dropping courses or taking less than a full-time course load.
  • Living on campus.

Send out a thank-you note whenever you are awarded a scholarship. Not only is it polite, but it may help your name make it to the top of the list when the organization is awarding its upper-level scholarships.

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