2016 is the year the financial aid timeline is changing. With the FAFSA now available beginning October 1, students and parents will have to rethink their entire approach to applying for college. This may also affect the timeline they follow in the search for scholarships. While FAFSA information may be used to determine eligibility for some institutional scholarships, students should still conduct an intense search for private scholarships on their own.
Scholarships are often considered “free money” in the financial aid world because they do not have to be repaid if the student continues to meet the academic or other requirements. For students, the extra money can help pay down the cost of living expenses involved in attending college, or reduce the amount of money that needs to be borrowed through student loans. Here are a few tips that might help in the search for scholarships:
• The search is ongoing: Actually, there is no real “scholarship season,” as there are plenty of scholarships that are available on a year-round basis. Although many do have deadlines of December so that award announcements can be made by the following spring, some are open right up to the first day of classes. Students should also not think that the search ends once they get into college, as there are many scholarships that are only available to current college students.
• Always apply early: Find out the deadlines you are dealing with and set up a schedule to meet all of the scholarship requirements, as some can be harder than others to complete. Plan to have everything to the sponsor at least a week to ten days before the actual deadline so you have some flexibility if something is missing. It can be difficult to get letters of recommendation, so make sure you do that early in the process and remind those people at least a week before your personal deadline.
• Look everywhere: You might be surprised at the amount of scholarships that are available. There is probably one that applies to you, even if you are not an academic whiz or an outstanding athlete. Your high school guidance office is a good place to start. There are also plenty of free online resources that can guide you along the way. Scholarships.com has a great deal of information on scholarships and grants, and can also point you to opportunities in your particular state. Discover Student Loans has a free scholarship search tool, as well as its own Discover Scholarship Award. Keep looking and you’re sure to find something that fits.
Get more information on hunting for scholarships in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro. It provides more details about the scholarship search process, reviews the entire financial aid timeline, educates readers on using debt wisely, and talks about good money habits to instill in children as they are growing up. Order it now, and start getting your student ready to apply to college and find college scholarships.