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Going to an Accredited College? Here’s a Guide to Understanding and Finding Scholarships

October 31, 2012

Rachel Higgins, a regular contributor to online education website, shares a number of thoughts on college scholarships with Delta Sigma Pi readers in the post that follows. Pass this info along to those in the throes of, or even just anticipating, the great financial aid scramble.

Getting a college degree is arguably one of the smartest things high school graduates today can do. As more and more people are pursuing a college education, a degree is becoming increasingly expected by employers. Add to this the stagnant job market, and it becomes all the more important to not only meet but also exceed the standard set by other applicants. Getting in is usually only half the battle, though. Figuring out how to pay the ever-growing bills is one of the least desirable parts of higher education, which is where the quest for scholarship money comes in.

Making a financial plan for college is often one of the first things students need to do when thinking about scholarships, though this is often harder than it seems. While it’s no secret that tuition costs have risen dramatically over the past few years, the more subtle semester-to-semester changes are often something that students do not even think about. Increasingly, colleges are upping the costs while students are enrolled, meaning that early budgets often have to be completely overhauled part way through.

While rising costs are often alarming, they need not be prohibitive. According to many reports, fewer than half of all college students are paying full tuition. The secret behind this often comes down to scholarships. Scholarships are almost always preferable to loans in that they do not have to be repaid, and can run the gamut from full tuition to simple semester-based stipends. Students often stack scholarship money, drawing from different sources simultaneously to patch together timely tuition payments.

Some of the easiest to apply for are federal and state-sponsored grants. These are usually geared to students who meet certain specific criteria, often having to do with family income, ethnic background, and geographic area. In most cases, grants are designed to level the educational playing field—people who start out at an economic disadvantage can often find at least some funding through these sources.

Private scholarships are also quite popular, though they can be a bit harder to track down. Many schools will offer merit-based scholarships to applicants who possess certain desirable characteristics, particularly where academic strength and diversity are concerned. These are often used to attract top applicants.

A wide range of institutions offer college scholarships, however, including community organizations, religious groups, and national endowments. Finding these opportunities is usually the hardest part, though a number of print and online databases can help narrow the search. Speaking with a college career counselor is often also a good place to start.

Rising costs are one of the worst ramifications of a more open educational space, but finding and winning scholarships can often make the experience much less stressful. Getting started is often the hardest part. Finding the right opportunities, crafting solid applications, and submitting careful packets can take an enormous amount of time, and students often get started about a year in advance. When it means that the future is saddled with less debt and more opportunity, however, few can argue that the struggle isn’t worth it.

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