Matthew L. Tuck, J.D., M.B.A.
Matthew L.’s Answer
Remember to think volume over size. Most scholarships and grants that are easy to get are relatively small. You likely won't find one scholarship to pay for the whole thing. But you can pick up lots of little ones to pay for all 4 years if you are creative and do your homework.
Here are some pointers and ideas I used when I was in school to get you started.
1. Put Together a Budget of All Your College Expenses - If you've been accepted to a particular college and you know that's where you want to go, congratulations! That's great news. The next step is to put together a budget to figure out how much you'll need for school. Include things like tuition, room and board, books, spending money, and transportation (particularly if your school is a long way from home). Figure out how much your family can contribute and what financial aid you may get (if any). Then you know how much you need to raise from scholarships, grants, work, etc.
2. Go to a State School - If you have not yet decided where to go, going to a state school and going to a school in your home state is often a better alternative to a private school or school in another state. Most in-state tuition is cheaper and schools often offer great scholarships, grants and state financial aid to in-state students. Check with the college financial aid office for financial aid opportunities at that school.
You may also want to consider going to a community college for your first 2 years. They are WAY cheaper than a 4-year school and you can live at home. Community colleges often have their own set of scholarships for you and that money goes a lot further at a community college. Just make sure all your credits will transfer to your 4-year school.
3. Investigate Clubs, Local Businesses & Fraternal Organizations - These types of organizations are where the hidden gold of scholarships and grants is. Start with your high school counselor. Now, some counselors are great and some are awful. If yours is bad, you may need to be your own counselor. Almost every adult club (think Elks, Rotary, Toast Masters, Moose Lodge, Odd Fellows, Kiwanis, VFW, and women's clubs) all have scholarships and grants. That is part of their purpose. These are not usually big scholarships and you usually you have to write a short essay, make a speech or do something else to earn it, but you can get lots of these. Check out the websites of the national organization to see what they offer. The locals don't always know everything that is available.
You can probably use the same basic essay for a bunch of these clubs. Just customize it to fit their unique requirements. Find out if you have a relative who belongs to the club. They can usually help make sure your essay or application gets to the top of the pile. And don't forget groups like the state legal bar, medical, dental, and other professional associations. They have lots of scholarships too. If you have an interest in these fields (or even if you don't), they would love to give you money. Churches, local banks and credit unions often have scholarships and grants too.
Every year thousands of these kinds of scholarships go unclaimed because no one bothers to write the essay or do the legwork to find them.
4. Explore Work-Study Programs - Most colleges have some kind of work-study program where you can work for the school and get paid or get tuition reimbursement. These are jobs like manning the desk at your dorm, campus safety (I did this) or working in the bookstore. Sometimes they are needs-based, but often times they are not.
5. Check with Your Employer or Your Parents' Employer - Many companies have scholarships available for their employees or their employees' children. If you really don't feel you can afford college right after high school, get a job with a company that offers tuition reimbursement. Many companies do. This is also a great way to pay for graduate school after college. Find a company to work for that pays for some or all of graduate education.
6. Check with Your School - Your target school may have unique scholarships and grants for incoming students. Schools also have great work-study programs (I did this in college and law school). You can man the front desk at the dorm, get paid and do your homework. Many schools also offer tuition reimbursement for things like student government. In law school I was elected to the student government and got a free ride my third year of law school (worth about $15,000 in tuition at that time). It was a lot of work but so worth it and saved me years of paying off student loans.
7. Check with Your Guidance Counselor - You should start here. Some are really good, some are awful. If yours is awful don't give up. Do your own research and contact everyone you can think of.
8. Search On-Line and Read Books - Read everything you can on grants and scholarships. There are tons of great books on the subject on Amazon and in the library. There are also great websites to get you started. Try this one: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search.
9. Check out the Military - Depending on your temperament, this may or may not be an option, but it really is a great experience. Everyone should do it. Military service before college will get you a ton of money for school. You may also be able to participate in ROTC during school which will help pay for school. ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) cadets who commit to serving in the military after college are eligible for scholarships covering the costs for tuition, fees, and textbooks for four years, plus you receive a monthly stipend for personal expenses. All 3 branches of the service (Army, Air Force, Navy) have ROTC programs. You will likely have to serve between 4 and 6 years on active duty (depending on the branch) and maybe some time in the reserves after graduations. You also have to take some special ROTC classes and maintain a minimum GPA. Military service looks great on a job application, teaches you amazing discipline, leadership skills, and self-reliance, and can prepare you for a career. In the military you can specialize in computers, cyber security, medicine and other highly sought after skill sets that you can leverage to get a great job once you get out. And you're graduating from college debt free.
Not all colleges have ROTC programs, but if your school does not have the program you may be able to go to a nearby college that does. You may also try starting your own ROTC program at your school if there is sufficient interest.
Check this link out to learn more. https://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10128
10. Explore Your Unique Background - It's a little unfair, but your family background and ethnicity may help you qualify for scholarships. If you are Native American you may qualify for certain tribal scholarships. But don't worry if you're not. If you're German or Russian or Armenian or anything else, you can probably find a scholarship from the local Armenian club or whatever. It's also a good way to help you get in touch with your heritage. Never a bad thing.
11. Get a Job - While not really a scholarship, working and saving before college is a lot easier than working during college. I did this before I went to law school. I lived in my parent's basement for 2 years and worked as much as I could (sometimes several jobs and 100+ hours week). By the time I was ready for law school, I had all of my first year expenses in my hand. So no debt the first year. It's also a good idea to get a job in college. It will help you earn money and helps keep you disciplined. Time management in college is crucial and if you're working you'll have less temptation to party too much or waste time. There is an old saying that if you want something done, give it to a person who is already busy. Same goes for college. Check out work-study options at your college too.
12. Do Extracurriculars and Get Good Grades in High School - If you're just starting in high school, extracurricular activities can provide a path to scholarships. Sports, debate, forensics, Junior Achievement , etc., can lead to scholarships. Many schools will give away athletic scholarships in certain sports and you don't even have to be that good. Everyone thinks about those big football and basketball scholarships for super athletes. These also are super competitive and you have to be really really good. But because of the way federal law is written, most schools have similar scholarships available for other sports too. If you're not a football star, don't worry. Contact colleges and look into sports like rowing, field hockey, lacrosse, bad mitten, tennis and softball. Many schools offer athletic scholarships in these more uncommon sporting areas. Great grades are another way to get scholarships. If you do great on the ACT or have a 4.0 GPA, schools will come looking for you and will sometimes throw money at you to get you to go there.
13. Use Software to Track Your Efforts - Because you may be applying for hundreds of these grants and scholarships, you need a good way to track your progress. Try using a computer and software to do it. You can be as basic as Excel or even MS Word. I recommend you try some free project management tools like Trello (https://trello.com/) or Slack to track your efforts. You should enter all the scholarships you're trying for, what you've sent, to whom, and when. Put in a date to follow up if you've not heard. Organization is the key here.
These are just a few ideas. Good luck and never give up.
Daniel A.’s Answer
This is a common concern for the next phase of your life. I would do some research online to see what scholarships are out there, maybe even scholarships in relation to your desired major. I also know that when I graduated high school, my school counselor often had an updated sheet of local places offering scholarships. Another place I know you can sometimes find scholarships are through your Church, often times they sponsor a senior or two, and I think one requirement is to potentially write an essay or something similar. These three places are probably your best bet, but even potentially looking through your college's website to see if they have any scholarships available for grades, degrees, state wide, etc.