College is expensive, but while escalating costs show no signs of slowing down, there is still hope for parents looking to score an affordable education for their kids. With millions of dollars in scholarships being awarded each year, there are plenty of opportunities for students to score free money … enough to pay for college and then some. And just in case you’re wondering where to find all this cash, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 places to begin the national scholarship search.
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is absolutely the first step for parents looking to score aid for their child’s education. Obviously, the FAFSA will determine which federal loans the student is eligible for, but it also determines eligibility for federal grants, and many universities use the FAFSA’s calculated Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to dole out need-based scholarship awards.
When students have a list of five or more universities that they’d be interested in attending, sometimes determining the available financial aid at each school is the best way to narrow down the choices. CollegeWeekLive makes that process easy by consolidating the admissions and financial aid information of several hundred schools in one place. There’s also a live chat feature that allows kids to speak directly with admissions reps and to get details on $5 million worth of university-specific scholarships.
College financial aid departments/websites
Once your child is sure where he’ll be attending school, he needs to make a beeline to the school’s financial aid office or website. Many schools automatically consider students for scholarships based on their initial application and FAFSA, but there are still some awards (up to full tuition) that may only be accessible through a separate application process.
When it comes to searching for scholarships online, Fastweb is the certainly the grande dame. It’s the largest free scholarship search engine on the web, providing access to more than $1 billion in scholarships in numerous categories. There’s even a scholarship directory that neatly organizes awards based on certain criteria, like ethnicity or year of study.
Although this site is sponsored by Sallie Mae (the loan provider), it still contains plenty of information on scholarships that don’t need to be paid pack, as well as grants and other free aid. There’s also a step-by-step guide to help families calculate and plan for college costs and get a grip on the whole financial aid monster.
With everyone walking around with a smartphone in their back pockets, it was only a matter of time before there was a scholarship resource available via hand-held touch screen. The Scholly app is free of sign-up forms and long, detailed questionnaires, while promising more targeted results in minutes. Additionally, students can see samples of winning scholarship essays.
Confessions of a Scholarship Winner, by Kristina Ellis
With so many online scholarship resources available, it may be tough to get your teenager to sit down and actually read a book related to the topic, but trust us, this one is worth heading straight to Amazon. Ellis secured more than $500,000 in scholarships before enrolling in Vanderbilt University and—get this—she says she had just average grades and test scores. And she divulges all of her scholarship-winning secrets in her book.
RELATED: Confessions of a Scholarship Winner
The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2014, by Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Another hard-copy scholarship resource, The Ultimate Scholarship Book makes searching for awards based on the student’s career goals, public service, talents or major as easy as a skim of the index page. And there’s no worry about receiving email spam once an online search engine sells your information to a third-party. Oh, and the authors both secured more than $100,000 in scholarships to finance their own Harvard educations, so they kinda know what they’re talking about.
Local businesses and organizations
Hometown chambers of commerce and businesses often offer scholarships for local kids. The awards are generally available for use at the students’ college or university of choice and, because many students tend to target the large, national awards, there generally isn’t much competition for them. Check your local chamber’s website for more info or book an appointment with your teen’s high school guidance counselor to get the scoop on local awards.
Professional college consultant
It may not make sense to spend money when you’re actually trying to save money on college costs, but in some cases, a professional consultant can provide targeted assistance to help your student secure the highest awards possible. My College Planning Team, a consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois, advises clients on everything from how to (legally) lower their EFC on the FAFSA and qualify for more aid, to how to raise standardized test scores, noting that even a moderate increase of just two points can mean an additional $10,000 in scholarships.
Did we miss any useful tips? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.