Most colleges provide some form of financial aid to help defray the cost of attendance. Applicants and their parents need to fill out the financial aid forms to be eligible to receive aid; many parents assume they will not qualify for aid, and thus don’t fill out the forms. Others fear that colleges will not admit students who request aid, but most colleges are need-blind, meaning they admit students regardless of the family’s ability to pay.
Typically, financial aid comes in the form of loans, grants and work-study. Loans need to be repaid over time, generally with a low interest rate; grants do not need to be repaid, and essentially can be viewed as free money; and students in work-study programs take jobs on campus to help contribute to the cost of college.
Many types of scholarships exist; you can find listings of scholarships online. Be sure never to pay for a scholarship search, since there are lots of free sites out there. Students and parents should look for scholarships not just in their senior year, but in all years of high school – there are many scholarships based on gender, geography, race and ethnicity and talent, among other criteria.
While the scholarship sites list open applications, many colleges will also award money during the admissions process to outstanding applicants. (For this reason, it’s critical to have excellent grades and very strong essays, and to apply to a balanced list of colleges.)
Scholarships generally vary in terms of duration and amount, and it’s important to consider the terms when accepting an award. The most common scholarships include:
- Merit scholarships, highly competitive grants generally awarded on the basis of a student’s overall academic achievement. This type of scholarship usually recognizes a student’s excellent GPA and SAT scores.
- Need-based scholarships, which a college determines solely based on a family’s ability to pay. A college will consider family income, assets, and other children in college to determine what a family’s “need” is to afford college.
- Athletic scholarships, given to athletes recruited by universities to play on a varsity team. To remain eligible for the scholarship, athletes need to maintain a minimum GPA and participate on the team for the entire four years of college.
- University-based scholarships, offered by schools per the stipulation of the donor. Criteria might include race or ethnicity, religion, geographic origin, or academic major
The best (and only) way to try and earn a scholarship is to apply!