Freshman 15: Scholarships 101

The Freshman Fifteen is a series by college freshman Elizabeth on the various things she’s learned throughout the year. Stay tuned for more posts!

It’s come the time of year when high school seniors have applied and been accepted to colleges and universities, and are now charged with the task of figuring out how to pay for said college education.

Loans are always available, but of course, the less money you have to pay back in the long run, the better. And most people, excepting those who are independently wealthy, don’t have the money to pay for everything up front and out of pocket. Federal aid can help to some extent, but for the multitude of students stuck in the optimistically named middle class, scholarships are the best option.

But what are scholarships? How do I get one? How do they work? Fear not, for this post will cover all the basics of finding, applying for, and receiving your scholarships.

What are scholarships?

Scholarships are sums of money that institutions, companies, schools, and even private parties give out to students that they feel deserve the extra help. They often involve an application process, and virtually all scholarships require the meeting of some sort of standards or requirements that make you eligible to apply.

Do I have to pay scholarships back? Nope! The good news is, it’s free money. If you earned it, you keep it (well, more accurately your school keeps it. It’s rare that you’ll ever see the money presented to you. It’s there in spirit).

Is it true that if I don’t have great grades, I won’t get scholarships? Not at all! While there are plenty of scholarships that are based on merit, GPA, and test scores, and equally large number are not. Some are based on financial need, while others can come from being a member of certain clubs or groups (Girl/Boy Scouts, 4H, etc.) or even being a certain nationality or having a certain hair or eye color! It sounds strange, but it’s true.

So where do I find these scholarships?

There are many resources available to you as a high school junior or senior, or even an undergraduate student. A great place to start is your guidance counselor’s office at school. There’s bound to be tons of information there on local scholarships, university or military based ones, and other resources.

Another, possibly even more important possibility is the university you plan on attending. There should be a scholarship page on their website that has a list of available scholarships, criteria, deadlines, and instructions for applying. Sometimes there are overall university ones, along with interdepartmental awards. If you know what program you’re planning on going into, it’s a good idea to check with them as well!

Beyond that, there are many websites that host scholarships and sweepstakes by companies, businesses, and other third party organizations. Check websites like Fastweb and Zinch that will help match you up with scholarships that you’re eligible for and interested in.

So I got one, now what?

Congratulations, that’s great! More often than not, information for the next steps will be provided for you when you are notified of your award. Sometimes you won’t have to do anything but sit back and watch it happen, and other times there may be more steps to be taken, such as writing a thank you note to the benefactor.

As I said, most scholarships go right through your university to ensure that they will be used as the guidelines state. So if someone starts asking for your bank account number or other highly personal information, be cautious and do some background checking before freely handing out information.