How to Get a College Scholarship
Let’s face it—college is expensive. It could be a major factor when deciding between colleges to attend. Even at a public university, you are looking at 15 to 25k a year, with the prices being higher for out-of-state at many institutions. Private? Oh boy—40k per year? You are offered student loans, but that just means you can delay paying it now, only to have to pay it after graduation—plus interest. We’re talking 60 to 160k student debt by graduation. Unless you want to spend $500 a month for the first 15 years of your career paying off your undergraduate loans, consider the financial resources available to you. So lets talk about how you can get a college scholarship, and help pay for college.
One such resource is undergraduate scholarships and fellowships. These are funds, often from private sources, created to give students money to pay for expenses related to college (tuition, room and board, textbooks, etc). There are scholarship funds based on your major, interests, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, life experiences, military status, and a whole slough of other things. The point being, these are funds established to give you money to pay for college, and they are heavily underutilized. Literally thousands of scholarships go unawarded each year because not a single student applied. Scholarships are routinely offered not only by your immediate university (there’s usually some portal specific to your university that shows you relevant scholarships to your major), but also by generic organizations offering scholarships to any student looking to apply.
Most applications require some basic background information, a few essays, and a few letters of recommendation. They can be a bit time consuming, but generate a list of scholarships you are eligible for. You will be able to largely recycle most of the material, and you can have a clear timeline for your recommenders to submit their letters to all the scholarships you apply to at once. Find a list of available scholarships at your financial aid office. If you’re still in high school, ask your counselors or try CollegeBoard and Unigo. Be sure to fill out a FAFSA—this form determines your financial need and automatically makes you eligible for many scholarships.
What’s more—competitive merit-based scholarship funding can be very prestigious. In particular, if you intend to pursue research, securing competitive funding as early as your undergraduate will make you very appealing for graduate programs and beyond. Word to the wise—a huge chunk of your career in research will be based on securing funding, and demonstrating your ability to do so early on will absolutely set you apart. One such source of funding for those interested in math, science, or engineering is the Barry Goldwater scholarship. You can apply your sophomore or junior year.
Have an interest in traveling abroad? Scholarships like Churchill or Gates (to the University of Cambridge), Rhodes (to Oxford University), Marshall (to UK), Mitchell (to Ireland), Schwarzman (to China), and Fulbright (to one of many international universities) are very prestigious (and competitive) opportunities to receive funding for studies after graduation. Several of these scholarships not only provide an excellent opportunity to travel and study abroad, but essentially open doors to whatever post-graduate university studies or career you wish to pursue afterwards. They also provide a great network of support to boost your career.
Note that many of these uber-competitive scholarships require your university endorsement to reduce the number of overall applications the committee receives and to pre-select the most competitive. Read up on the policies your university has in place for selecting who they nominate. Receiving your university’s endorsement may not be as competitive as you think—many students who are the most competitive for these fellowships fail to take the time to apply. More so, your university probably has faculty who have received the awards themselves or who have advised past students in applying. These faculty are instrumental in helping you apply and presenting the most polished and competitive presentation of your accomplishments to the fellowship committees. This is because the awards are not only great for you as an individual, but they reflect very favorably on the institution as a whole. Your university gets to flaunt how many of its great students have been recognized by these funding agencies for their precociousness and potential. It is essentially a way for the university to boost its prestige—so they have a vested interest in seeing you bring these awards back home.
In sum, plenty of scholarship and fellowship funding is available to you as an undergraduate, ranging from need-based funds to hyper-competitive, career-bolstering merit-based funds. Many very solid undergraduate scholarships are probably also available to you through your university. Alumni are passionate about giving back and enabling you to enjoy college without the lingering burden of the expense. Look around and be informed! It is money available to you for the taking if you are aware of it.