Most of us spent years after graduating paying off student loans for college, but if your teen puts in the work now to find scholarships, she can graduate with minimal debt. Here are the top 10 places to look online to find scholarships, grants, and student financial aid to help your teen pay for college.
Fortunately, there are many scholarship opportunities out there. The U.S. Department of Education and universities give out billions of dollars in scholarship and grant money each year, according to Debt.org. Other organizations, including private corporations and nonprofit groups, offer scholarships too. This is all money that is given to qualifying students as gifts and does not need to be paid back.
The term “qualifying” can mean many different things, depending on the scholarship’s criteria. A student doesn’t necessarily have to excel at sports or academics; scholarship opportunities are available to students from a variety of backgrounds and who have a wide range of hobbies or interests. There’s an abundance of information online about these opportunities, but it can be overwhelming.
The good news is, we’ve spoken to some experts and compiled a list of 10 online resources that offer different kinds of scholarships and scholarship information. Keep in mind there are many more scholarship information sites out there. No matter your child’s age, it’s worth it to start looking early so you don’t miss any deadlines—and have time to gather as much information as possible.
One important tip to keep in mind before you even launch your favorite Internet browser: Write down your child’s family background and academic statistics and achievements. Almost all of these sites will require this information for setting up profiles or applying for scholarships.
“You go to these scholarship search engines, and they’ll want you to enter this specific information. They ask really specific questions about your family heritage and stuff, and that’s what they’re using in their algorithms,” says Kim Stezala, The Scholarship Lady® and author of Scholarships 101: The Real-World Guide to Getting Cash for College. “If you just hop on the Internet and don’t have that information, it’s going to take you more time.”
Now, on to our list:
One of the most popular and established scholarship search sites, Scholarships.com boasts more than 16 million registered users. Its free, quick profile format allows you to enter your child’s basic information to get instant match results to potential scholarship opportunities.
Owned by Monster.com, Fastweb.com offers access to more than 1.5 million scholarships. It’s a free student-to-scholarship matching service that uses a quick profile format and also offers an array of college prep tools. Bonus: The site’s new Deals and Promos feature lists discounts available to students from major retailers, including Dell, J. Crew, and Ford.
This is both a website and mobile app. Like the sites listed above, it uses the scholarship-matching platform to generate a list of scholarships suited for the individual user. The site was founded by Christopher Gray, who grew up in poverty in Birmingham, AL, and was able to win $1.3 million in scholarship money. His experience gave him the idea for Scholly, which has helped hundreds of thousands of students and families find more than $70 million in scholarship awards for college.
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Founded by Jessica Velasco, a former college-admissions professional, JLVCollegeCounseling.com provides free information about scholarships, college prep, admission, and financial aid. The scholarships are organized in lists with deadlines for each month. There are also scholarships based on grade level, major, residence, hobbies, and religion.
With 10 years of experience in higher education, Velasco knows how much work it takes to apply for scholarships and recommends students take the time to perfect each application. “Quality is always better than quantity,” she says. “Many times students get so caught up in sending out as many scholarship applications as possible and forget to make sure their applications are of the highest quality. In addition to proofreading applications...students must make sure their applications are unique.”
Using the popular student-scholarship match system, Cappex.com is a free site that lists thousands of private scholarships. It also provides more than $30,000 in its own unique scholarships.
Applicants can search by category or get matched to scholarships by creating a quick profile on Niche.com. The site also offers information on college rankings plus an admissions calculator.
In many cases, a college admissions office is given a budget it can use to give varying amounts of scholarships to incoming students based on merit factors such as high test scores, good grades, or talents. Money that comes this way is renewed all four years of schooling, but each school’s application process is different.
“We want students to go on the school’s websites and in the top search window type ‘scholarships,’ and it will tell you, ‘here’s how we handle scholarships, here’s how we get them out,’” says Elizabeth Hartley, owner of Scholarship Gold Consulting. “A school’s website is one of their most powerful tools for scholarships.”
Some universities, particularly prestigious ones, have endowments that can provide financial aid to students, Hartley adds. “Even if a family makes too much money to get aid to go to a local state school, they may be able to get money from a more elite school,” she says.
Googling for Dollars
Stezala recommends coming up with list of traits about your teen and family background—things that go beyond academics and can help uncover hidden dollars—and use these terms in your searches.
“Is either parent or a grandparent part of the military or a veteran? And is anyone in your family a member of any kind of professional organization or civic group?” Stezala poses. “I find sometimes that students make the mistake of only doing Internet searches about themselves, so the keywords that they’re using aren’t going to peel back the layers of some of these smaller local scholarships that can really add up.”
Local Community Foundation Websites
Some of these manage what are called donor-advised funds, Stezala says. Donors who may not want to set up their own scholarship program will give their money to a community foundation, and it’s the foundation’s responsibility to collect applications and do the judging.
“They are a great resource...even if they don’t give out scholarships, their websites might have links to local scholarships,” Stezala says.
The Net Price Calculator
The net price refers to the amount a student pays after receiving scholarships and other financial aid that do not need to be paid back. Hartley recommends using net price calculators to find out what your estimated price tag for college will be.
Searching online for scholarship money will take some time and patience, but it’s hard work that will ultimately pay off, both in savings and for your child’s education.