With the new timeline of the FAFSA being available in October, families of high school seniors could feel a bit of a lull from January through the final decision day in May. While this might have been a very busy time in previous years, it almost seems like a letdown now after the rush of college applications and financial aid.
If you haven’t completed the necessary steps, of course it is definitely time to get going. But, if you are beginning to compare financial aid offers and think you might have to take out student loans to cover the cost of a college education, one alternative is to continue the search for scholarships. These can help reduce the financial impact, and may mean the difference between a preferred choice and a second choice school. They might also leave you that extra bit of spending money so you’ll be able to cover all those unexpected college expenses.
It may be true that many scholarships have a December deadline, but it is also true that a lot of scholarships have much later deadlines. This means that you can continue the search right through high school graduation and even into the summer. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
• Use reputable resources: The internet is the first place most high school students go to search for scholarships. While this will yield substantial results, it can be difficult to discern reputable from non-reputable resources. You should never have to pay to find scholarships – there are plenty of other ways to go about this task. It might be a good idea to start out at your high school guidance office, or on a non-affiliated website like the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Scholarships.com has excellent resources to take you through the scholarship application process.
• Be consistent: Don’t just spend one day looking for scholarships and think that you are through. Subscribe to e-mail updates that will notify you of upcoming scholarship deadlines. Carve out a chunk of time each week where you really sit down and attack this opportunity.
• Get creative: Don’t think yourself out of applying because there are too many applicants, or your skills might not measure up. Look beyond the big, flashy scholarships for those where you have a greater chance of winning. Start locally and look into church, financial and civic organizations that offer help. Check with local businesses, or have your parents ask their circle of acquaintances to provide insights. Think about those areas where you really excel – from golf and design, to game playing and more – and search under those criteria. You might be surprised to find a scholarship that is just perfect for your skill set.
Scholarships are “free” money, but it does take some work to find and apply to those that are right for you. There is no scholarship “season.” You can search for scholarships throughout your high school and college years.