In 2020, the average cost of college for a public 4-year institution in the United States was $32,889 per student. This cost has grown 5.2% each year, doubling over the last 20. To avoid taking out large loans that could turn into long-term debts, students should consider scholarships. These scholarships are available for students who are currently in college and high school students looking to pursue higher education.
Scholarships are not repaid, making them a cost-effective option for students looking to minimize debt. This is especially true for Black student borrowers, who unfortunately end up with an average of $52,726 in student debt for a typical bachelor’s degree, nearly double what their white counterparts owe.
One of the largest obstacles students face when searching for scholarships is low exposure. Students aren't always exposed to scholarship opportunities in high school, and researching options on your own can be difficult.
Here are some tips and tricks for finding scholarships based on my experience.
Use keywords when hunting for scholarships. Scholarships are often competitive, which means you want to find an award with a smaller pool of applicants. This is where you can use specific parts of your identity to narrow your search. Organizations and institutions provide diversity scholarships for underrepresented students. This is where keywords that include your race, sexual orientation, or other identifiers are helpful.
Keep up with your connections, previous teachers, professors, and employers who you have made a strong relationship with are great options. It is not uncommon that a scholarship will ask for a letter of recommendation. Make sure to consistently reach out to your connections.
You should complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) so you can qualify for need-based scholarships alongside merit-based scholarships. The deadline for Indiana students this year is April 15. Check out this sheet for more information on specific state deadlines.
Search your hometown community for scholarship opportunities. While Google and other search engines are a great start, local community foundations and religious organizations are often overlooked as places that offer scholarships.
Apply, and then apply again. Big or small, every award can help.
Have your materials ready. Scholarships often ask for basic contact information, information about extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and essays. You need to be prepared to write. Common themes include essays about community service, leadership and perseverance.
Being asked to pay to sign up for a scholarship is an indicator you're being scammed.
Lastly, don’t give up. Searching for scholarships is a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it.
Vincent Isom, the Director of the 21st Century Scholars Program IU emphasized the impact of scholarships beyond finances.
“We are looking for students who are open to pursuing higher education,” he said. “Scholarships are a good resume entry.”
Hard work and dedication go a long way, and the benefits of these scholarships often go further than finances. Not only can scholarships pay your way through college, they also work well on your resume, build soft skills, and expand your connections. Don’t let these financial aid and career building opportunities go to waste.