The price of higher education is steep. Tuition costs continue to rise, not to mention that housing, food, books, and transportation expenses add up quickly. That’s where college scholarships come in—they can cover some of these costs and help you offset your student debt. Better still, you can find many of these scholarships online.
“It’s always good to cast a wide net while searching for scholarships,” says Andrew Elwell, director of student communications and marketing at the College Board. “Online scholarship search tools can help you find scholarships you’ve never even heard of.”
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Average tuition and room and board
Four-year public college
Room and board: $10,160
Four-year private college
Room and board: $11,370
Online scholarships can help
The average family uses scholarships to cover 17% of the cost of college.
Grants also help
Thousands of grants are available to undergrads and grad students. In the 2016–2017 school year, $125.4 billion was available in grants. Here’s a look at where the money came from:
- Federal government: 32%
- Colleges and universities: 47%
- Private and employers: 13%
- State governments: 8%
Where to look
Look for online scholarships on free and reputable websites. A number of sites allow you to fill in background information to help them match you directly with scholarships. Sites to try:
Use more than one site to make sure you have access to as many scholarships as possible.
Don’t stop looking: As your academic career evolves, you may become eligible for more or different scholarships. For example, many scholarships target certain majors. So keep up the search.
How to avoid scams
Applying for scholarships online allows you to cast a wide net, but beware of scams. Take your time to vet the scholarships you apply to. Red flags to look for:
- Being asked for money — never pay to apply for a scholarship.
- Be wary of anyone asking for unusual information, like your Social Security number, bank account numbers, or credit card information.
- Offers of a guaranteed scholarship. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
How to apply online
- Do your research and start your applications early.
- Check eligibility requirements.
- Get organized. Gather recommendations, transcripts, and test scores ahead of time. Some scholarships have very specific requirements for the documents, so read instructions carefully.
- Don’t send supplemental material if not asked to do so.
- Reread your work for spelling and grammar mistakes. Have someone help you edit.
Time-saving tip: Using a standardized data form, like Scholar Snapp, can make the application process easier. Sites like these allow you to reuse your information to apply to multiple scholarships.
What information will you be asked to provide?
You may be asked to include a variety of information and documents, including:
- Personal information, such as name, date of birth, and address
- Statement of motivation
- Personal essay
You got it! Now what?
Once you receive a scholarship, your job isn’t over yet.
- Alert your school’s financial aid office in case they need to adjust your financial aid.
- If you received a renewable scholarship, continue meeting the criteria of the award, such as sending grade reports or doing community service.
- Write a thank-you note and pay it forward. “A short letter describing the difference the scholarship made in your life helps encourage the givers to continue awarding the scholarship in the future,” says Mark Kantrowitz, founder of FinAid, an online guide to financial aid.