The Ins and Outs of Getting College Scholarships
College is expensive. If you were a freshman starting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this year, you’d have to shell out $33,378 for in-state tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies. And that’s just for one year!
In fact, according to the College Board, for the 2017-2018 school year, students nationwide spent an average of $25,900 on tuition at in-state public colleges and more than $50,000 at private colleges. Over the course of four years, that brings your total to more than $103,600 at in-state public schools and more than $200,000 at private colleges on tuition alone.
If you don’t have $200,000 lying around, don’t worry. Most students qualify for some amount of financial aid that can help them afford to go to college. But getting lots of financial aid in the form of loans can be a double-edged sword, because once you’re finished with college, you may find yourself in a mound of debt that can take years to pay off.
That’s why it’s best to apply for as many grants and scholarships as you can. Grants and scholarships are awarded to students, usually on the basis of merit, and don’t have to be repaid — essentially, it’s free money.
Let’s take a closer look at the three types of funding you can get to go to college:
Types of Financial Aid
- Student Loans
Usually, you will be able to get student loans from the government that you don’t have to start paying back until after you leave school. Let’s say you take out $10,000 in student loans at 3% annual interest (a typical rate). Once you leave school (whether you graduate or not), you have to start repaying the loan with interest. A typical minimum monthly payment on a $10,000 loan would be $100 month, and it would take you 9.5 years to pay back the loan (of which $1,500 would go toward interest).
It takes the average American about 20 years to repay the student loans they used to earn a bachelor’s degree. And according to data from the Institute for College Access & Success, college graduates in Illinois have an average debt of $29,305.
- Grants and scholarships
Since you don’t have to pay them back, getting grants and scholarships is crucial. There are two types of grants and scholarships: Ones awarded by the state, which can be either merit-based or need-based, and ones that are funded by private companies or organizations and are typically awarded to students of specific races, religions, ethnicities or geographic areas who have high academic achievement.
State-funded grants or scholarships are usually awarded after you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. To apply for privately-funded scholarships, you typically need to submit your transcript, along with letters of recommendation and an essay on a specific topic. If you’re selected, you may receive anywhere from a few hundred dollars to an entire free tuition. Your college counselor can help you research what scholarships are out there and give you tips on applying!
Colleges will also award scholarships to students based on their academics, athletic achievement or other criteria. Just remember, the more valuable you are to the school you’re applying to, the more likely you are to receive a scholarship, so keep up your grades and develop your skills in extracurricular activities.
- Work study
If you can’t get enough money from student loans and scholarships to cover the cost of your college tuition, you can also participate in a work study program, which guarantees you will get a job on campus to help pay for school.
Tips for Applying for College Scholarships
So, you might be asking yourself, how can I increase my chances of getting a college scholarship? One of the best things you can do is to improve your grade point average as soon as possible. Even if you’re only a freshman in high school, it’s never too early to focus on getting good grades so you can edge out the competition when it’s time to apply for scholarships.
You can also start researching college scholarships as soon as your sophomore or junior year so you know what kinds of criteria the various organizations are looking for and can begin thinking about what you’ll write in the application essay and whom you’ll ask for a recommendation letter. Here are a few websites to check out:
Remember, don’t let fear of finances keep you from applying to college!