The Best Online Resources for Finding Scholarships

best place to find scholarship

 

Whether you are a high school freshman, a current college student, or a graduate student, you can find scholarships to help pay for your education. In addition to working with the guidance counseling or financial aid office at your high school or college, you can find scholarship search tools online.

Before you embark on a scholarship hunt there are a few tips you should consider:

  • Agree on the number of scholarships you will apply to each week, month, or in total. It can become a full-time job.
  • If you haven’t already, create a separate email account for college/scholarship information versus your personal and school communication.
  • Don’t let the volume of information overwhelm you. Be ready to adjust your email preferences to get weekly summaries rather that separate emails for every possible scholarship.
  • Organize your written responses so you can reuse answers as much as possible. This helps if you plan to apply to multiple scholarships.
  • Before you work on any scholarship or apply to any program you find online, verify that the program is still in existence. Companies and colleges discontinue funding at times and you don’t want to invest 15 hours of effort only to find the program ended last year.

 

Watch Out!

First, NEVER PAY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS. Ever. If you are told there is a fee to accept your award, it is a scam. You should not have to pay for legitimate scholarships.

The sites listed in this article work to include only legitimate programs, but there are a lot of companies out there preying upon people’s desire to find college money. These shifty businesses promise results. Use your good judgment. No one can guarantee scholarships.

Also, these scholarship search sites ask for your personal information to help find scholarships that meet your specific profile. Use caution when providing personal information, as some sites may sell your information. Read the registration forms carefully, and if you do not want your information shared with third parties, be sure to opt out.

Here are some top online resources for finding scholarships.

Fastweb

Fastweb is an online scholarship database with more than 1.5 million programs listed. Students can register with Fastweb, create a profile, and receive customized emails with scholarships right for them. Fastweb has scholarships for every year of study, beginning with high school freshman and going all the way through graduate school. Since 1995, Fastweb has been helping students with free scholarship search information.

http://www.fastweb.com/

 

Scholarships.com

Scholarships.com is another online database dedicated to helping students find money for college. Scholarships.com features 2.7 million scholarships and grants worth more than $19 million. Students and guidance counselors can search according to a variety of criteria. In addition, Scholarships.com includes a matchmaker and directory feature to help students find the right college.

http://www.scholarships.com/

 

Big Future

Big Future is one part of the College Board’s extensive website. You are probably familiar with the College Board site because it’s the resource for SAT practice and registration. However, the site’s “Big Future” section also includes college and scholarship search features. The scholarship search feature is a recent addition that includes 2,200 programs totaling more than $6 million in awards. College Board is working to expand the listings, so the number of scholarships listed will increase.

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college

 

Cappex

Cappex, a popular college search site, gives you access to more than $11 billion in scholarships. It is a great tool to search for scholarships offered by specific colleges and universities. The focus of the site is matching students with merit and academic scholarships offered by more than 3,000 schools.

https://www.cappex.com/scholarships/

 

CollegeNET

CollegeNET is a technology company that focuses on web-based tools for education. The scholarship search program is unique, because in addition to information on programs and awards, CollegeNET encourages students to create forums and vote online for the most interesting discussion. Weekly voting and site participation determines the CollegeNET social networking scholarship, which ranges from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the level of participation. In addition to the social aspect, CollegeNET has a database of $1.6 billion in scholarships.

http://collegenet.com/

 

By using these online resources you can find scholarships, even if you are not a top academic student. There will be overlap in the scholarships described on these sites, but each site claims to have unique content. It’s a good idea to use more than one of these sites as part of your scholarship search.

 

FAFSA Change: October 1 = Financial Aid for 2017

 

Today I want to list some actions you can take now that will make life easier throughout the rest of this school year improve your financial aid awards. This information is immediately relevant to families with high school seniors or current college students. If your child is younger, you may want to get ahead by understanding the process now.

Here’s the big news for 2016—the FAFSA application will open on Friday, October 1 this year. In the past families began the FAFSA in January while they tried to estimate their past year’s income tax information. Now you will use your already completed (hopefully!) 2015 tax return.

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the first step in the process of obtaining need-based aid from colleges and universities. The FAFSA is a means of evaluation. Completing the FAFSA is like being let in the front door. It doesn’t award you any aid but it’s your first step in the right direction.

Who gets financial aid? Should we apply?

Lots of people. Even middle-class and upper-middle-class families receive financial aid.

Financial aid is based in part on your family income / assets. The other factor in determining financial aid is the cost the college or university your child ultimately attends.

Financial aid is intended to cover the gap between the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the cost of a year’s education at a particular institution. A family with an EFC of $30,000 may not qualify for financial aid at a state university with an expected annual cost of $26,000. However, that same family would qualify for financial aid at the private university that costs $60,000 a year to attend.

How do we know if we qualify?

(Or, do we make too much money to apply?)

There are some online tools to help you estimate cost and financial aid. A good resource is the FAFSA4caster Of course, a lot of the equation depends on your family’s final college choice which may not be determined for months. So the first step in the application process is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

How can you submit the FAFSA?

You can save time and frustration by completing the FAFSA online at https://fafsa.ed.gov

There is an option to complete a paper copy of the FAFSA, but you are more likely to experience delays and data entry errors if you send in a paper application. In this day and age, even for people who don’t have regular Internet access at home, it is well worth completing the online FAFSA even if you need to use a computer at the local library, university, or high school.

How do you apply?

Step 1. You need to get a FSA ID which takes the place of the old pin number. This ID allows you to electronically access and sign your FAFSA application. The process should take less than 5 minutes and can be completed online at https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm

Once you have a FSA ID put it somewhere where you will be able to safeguard it, but where you won’t forget or lose it before it’s time to file.

Step 2. Complete the FAFSA application. The window for submitting the FAFSA opens October 1st of a student’s senior year of high school. You will want to have these details handy:

  • Social Security Number (or Alien Registration Number)
  • 2015 federal income tax returns
  • Bank and investment statements
  • Records of any other income that may not be included on your tax return (untaxed income)

The FAFSA looks at student and parent finances, so have these documents handy for you and your student.

Step 3. Submit and wait. Once your data is processed, you will receive an SAR or Student Aid Report. The SAR is essentially a summary of the information you submitted in your FAFSA.

Verify the accuracy of the data and pay careful attention to your EFC– your Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount your family is expected to pay for college next year.

Step 4. Send your FAFSA results to all of the colleges on your list, complete any school specific aid forms, and wait. The FAFSA is the tool to start the process, but it does not award funds; individual schools do. Think of the FAFSA as one part of your application, like the SAT. Make sure you have completed all other required paperwork for financial aid at every college you are still considering. Contact financial aid departments if you have questions or special circumstances. Colleges should contact you with financial aid offers in the spring (and possibly in the fall once your are officially admitted.)

Do you need help completing the FAFSA?

If you can copy numbers from your bank statements and tax return, you can complete the FAFSA without paying someone to help. FAFSA questions about income will prompt you with the exact line numbers from your tax return, so you aren’t left guessing. Take a look at the FAFSA worksheet to see for yourself: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/2017-18-fafsa-worksheet.pdf If you want to pay for help, you can, but they can’t “find” you extra money; they will just enter your numbers and hit the submit button. You can do this.

Do it now!

The FAFSA starts holding your place in the financial aid line. If you submit it now (in October) you will be in the front of the line when colleges start distributing the “good” aid like grants, which do not need to be paid back. If you forget to fill out the FAFSA or wait until April when you find your son actually was admitted to that really expensive Ivy League school (yes, this happened to a former student of mine), you will find the only aid remaining is student loans.

Ask if you need help.

I’m not a financial guru or a CPA. When I have questions, I pick up the phone and ask for advice. I’ve gotten plenty of free help from college financial aid officers. Additionally, you will find a live chat feature on the FAFSA site to help with questions and most area community colleges offer sessions to help parents and students complete the FAFSA. If you need help, ask.

I’m glad to see the FAFSA timetable start earlier this year. I think it puts the financial process in line with the college application process and helps families with the reality of selecting schools that will ultimately be affordable.

 

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Does Indicating Financial Need Impact Admissions Chances?

 

I heard that when applying to college not to say that you need financial aid, but when you get accepted, then go ahead and fill out financial aid information.  Is this correct?  My daughter will be working on her application this summer for early decision. Will stating we are looking for scholarship money decrease our chances of getting in?

Great question. Unfortunately, I have to give my most common answer – it depends. Here are some factors to consider.

Need Blind Admissions

Some colleges and universities are “need blind” in their admissions process. This means admissions decisions are made with NO consideration of a student’s ability to pay or potential financial need.

If your daughter is applying to need blind schools, you don’t need to worry about need affecting her admissions chances.

When Need Matters

Many colleges and universities take an “it depends” position. Need isn’t their primary consideration, but it may become a factor. Here are some examples:

  • A clearly outstanding candidate indicates he will apply for financial aid. This student has grades, test scores, activities, and essays above the typical profile for this college and he meets the criteria for academic scholarships. Need is likely overlooked in admissions because this guy will be a real asset to the school and a probable scholarship recipient.
  • A good student applies to her flagship state university and indicates she expects to apply for financial aid. The admissions office uses the established formula—likely a combination of class rank / GPA and standardized test score—to make a decision. Need never entered into the equation.
  • A marginal candidate at a particular university needs financial aid. The university is “need aware” in its policies (the opposite of need blind) and has already given out significant aid to attract top applicants. The university may choose to waitlist or reject this marginal candidate in favor of another borderline student who is able to pay the full cost with no aid.

You can see there are a variety of factors to consider. Usually the issue of aid doesn’t impact admissions at all. The times when a family’s ability to pay matter tend to involve borderline applicants, those who barely meet that year’s standard for admission. In these cases, colleges and universities are willing to pass on that student in favor of a similar one who can pay the full cost without aid.

New Financial Aid Process May Change the Answer

This fall seniors in the class of 2017 will find the college financial aid process has changed. The timetable for applying for financial aid has been accelerated to bring it more in line with the college application timeline. So instead of applying to college in the fall and waiting until January, February, or March to apply for aid, families will complete the FAFSA and financial aid applications beginning October 1.

This is good new for families.

  • FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) numbers will be based on your 2015 taxes, which are already done. In the past families had to estimate their taxes and submit early in order to “get in line” for institutional grants and aid.
  • Families will know their EFC (expected family contribution) sooner. This is the amount your family is expected to contribute towards your child’s college education on an annual basis. Financial aid will help with expenses that exceed this amount. (Many families discover this total is much higher than expected, so be ready.)
  • Because families will have information sooner, they can better target schools that are a good fit financially (or for scholarship potential.)

But the new timeline for financial aid may eliminate the strategy of applying for admission first, getting accepted, then applying for aid.

Other Considerations

I have a few other ideas on this topic.

First, I’m a rule follower by nature so the suggestion that a student should knowingly mislead a college or university rubs me the wrong way. Over the years I have seen very few students successfully game the system when it came to admission or aid and I have seen many more who got caught by their own omissions (or in some cases outright lies.)

Second, keep in mind that financial aid only covers the gap between your EFC and the cost of attendance. And the most common type of financial aid is a loan. Financial aid is NOT the same as scholarship money. (Financial aid is based on need; scholarships are based on merit / achievement.) So you may be considering all this “strategic timing” just to qualify for some student loans. A student who is seeking scholarship money can best do so by intentionally selecting schools where she will be above average for grades, test scores, and other personal achievements.

Next, you want to apply for financial aid as soon as possible. Under the old system, you couldn’t apply for aid before January 1, so it was possible to get an offer of admission before applying for financial aid. But the new system will not have this time gap. If you wait to apply for aid until your daughter is accepted, you risk missing out on the “good aid”—things like grants and work study which don’t need to be paid back.

Finally, keep in mind that the issue of need rarely impacts the final admission decision. Yes, you might hear a lot of people citing it as the reason their sons or daughters didn’t get in, but that’s because it is easier to attribute rejection to bureaucratic policies than personal inadequacies. In reality, most admissions offices, even those that consider need, are weighing the merit of a students’ application more than their potential for institutional need.

Five Common, Yet Unexpected, College Costs

$100 Bills

Graduation time once again. I love hearing about college plans from students I’ve worked with over the last couple years. And I really enjoy the college graduation updates from past clients (although I start to feel old when I see some.)

This time of year seems so full of promise as families prepare for new schools and graduates seek new jobs. Sometimes in the middle of celebration and excitement of expectation, we can forget to plan for reality.

Everyone knows college is expensive. Most families preparing to send a student to college for the first time in the fall take into account the standard cost of tuition, housing, and food, but there are a number of often-unexpected college costs families should plan for.

Some families are fortunate enough to be able to work these unexpected costs into their monthly budgets. Unfortunately, each year we see students forced to withdraw from college because they can no longer afford to continue.

Here are some of the expected “unexpected” costs of college that you should plan to pay.

1. Fees

There are expected fees every semester: facilities charges, computer lab fees, or library fines. But there are some fees you may be surprised to find on their bill—recreation center charges for online classes, athletic passes regardless of your interest in sports, and class materials charges that are not listed in the course catalog. These added charges can add hundreds of dollars to a student’s college costs every term.

You may be able to negotiate some charges by calling the university, but many are non-negotiable. I bitterly remember paying hundreds of dollars per semester in graduate school for the recreation center on the main campus. I never set foot on the main campus because all my classes were elsewhere. No luck in getting those charges reversed

2. Travel

Every college has an online cost calculator that includes student travel to and from school. However, in reality, the cost of travel can be much higher than expected. As the cost of gas and airline tickets changes, your college transportation costs will change.

Students attending college far from home may encounter significant fluctuations in the cost of airline tickets, and they also may find it expensive to transport their belongings to and from campus each year.

3. Textbooks

Textbook costs are another expense that families plan for; often, though, they’re taken by surprise by how much more the actual expenses are than their preliminary estimates anticipated.

The cost of books varies depending on the type of class. A student taking biology may find the single required textbook costs $170. Another student taking a literature class may find the paperback novels are much less expensive at $10 to $20 each, but with 14 required novels for a single class, it adds up. Students can expect to spend $500 to $900 per term on textbooks.

Students can save by comparison shopping and purchasing used books when possible. Renting books may offer a money saving alternative. I’m not a fan of using digital textbooks exclusively because I don’t find students retain the information in the same way, so I’d personally use that option as a last resort.

4. Parking and Car Expenses

Students who had a car throughout high school understand that there are usual operating expenses in keeping a car. What many families don’t anticipate is the expense of parking and keeping a car on most college campuses.

Some schools have ample parking and hand out parking permits at no charge. However, students living on small, crowded campuses or in busy urban areas may find the cost of parking is $200-$500 per month. (Yes, you read that right—per month!)

When parking is a problem on a particular campus, many students look for short-cuts then find themselves with parking tickets, and over the course of the semester those charges add up. The student who agreed to the low-cost lot behind the stadium may be tempted to skip class or park “illegally” when the weather is bad or when he is running late.

If parking isn’t free at your college, find out what options you have and budget accurately. 

5. Greek Life

On paper, the cost of participating in Greek life—sororities and fraternities—can seem minimal. Each chapter will often have annual dues, and there may be additional fees associated with living in the house. The unexpected costs, however, can quickly add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per semester.

My neighbor just brought her daughter home from the daughter’s freshman year in college. They found the monthly sorority charges were DOUBLE the pre-rush estimate given to parents. Fortunately, the added expenses didn’t break their budget, but not all families will have money available in the middle of the school year for things like added sorority costs.

Keep in mind some of the added cost of Greek life is optional, but may not feel like it at the time. Lots of sororities and fraternities participate in special events on and off campus. Students may have to purchase tickets to these events, appropriate attire (no one wants to wear the same dress to all the dances), and make donations to their sorority or fraternity’s causes. Often these costs don’t make it into the planning budget, but they should.

To get an idea of the actual cost of participating in Greek life, students should ask current members about their expenses over the past year or two and plan for additional “social” costs throughout the year.

6. Snacking

Most entering freshmen and their families understand that some degree of snacking takes place in college, but they usually underestimate the amount of money college students spend eating outside of the regular meal plan.

College students will find that vending machines around campus can be linked to their dining points or will accept credit cards. This makes it very easy to swipe the card to get a soda or a snack in between classes, but doing so each day adds up. Late-night pizza delivery during study sessions or the daily iced mocha at the coffee house seems typical of a college student, but can add hundreds of dollars to a student’s cost of college per year.

 

It is important for students and parents to accurately budget the amount of money they will need to pay for each year of college education. Underestimating purchases such as snacks or textbooks or failing to account for potentially high costs of travel, parking, or participation in activities such as Greek life can leave students thousands of dollars short at the end of each academic year.

What unexpected college costs have you encountered? Leave a comment (see box above).