Another Way To Finance Your Education

The constantly increasing cost of higher education is enough to discourage any aspiring college-attendee. Before you shelve your dreams to study beyond high school, do some research. In addition to the millions of dollars in federal and state aid available, thousands of grants are also awarded to undergraduate and graduate students each year by private organizations. In fact, private and employer grants make up 7% of the total aid available to students pursuing post-secondary education and amounted to over 9 billion dollars in 2006.

Recipients may be determined based on merit (such as achieving certain test scores, athletic proficiency, or grade point averages), affiliations (such as membership in service clubs like the Lions), ethnicity, employment (companies may tuition reimbursement for good grades), or demographics (such as being a single parent). These scholarships can help recipients pay for tuition and class fees, room and board, even textbooks and other costs.

Five Essential Steps to Getting Private Scholarships

While you may already feel overwhelmed by the college application process, much of the work you’ve done (such as identifying your skills, getting recommendations, and writing essays) can be used to find and apply for private scholarships. In fact, the process can be simplified into five straightforward steps. Follow them and you could find yourself much closer to financing your education. Most of the application deadlines for these private grants are in the late spring, and you need to take these deadlines seriously. Late arrivals generally receive form rejection letters. Start this process early to ensure you have enough time to make the cut.

1.Identify Your Niche
Everyone is a combination of distinctive talents, varying interests, personal beliefs, and a unique background, and it is precisely these differences that can help you win a private scholarship. Granting organizations usually look for candidates who have a particular skill or interest, belong to their organization, or are affiliated with a special interest group. To be more specific, your weekend hobby, summer job, or ethnic heritage could help you obtain funding for college.

To best identify your options, start by making a complete list of all the activities in which you have participated, clubs or groups you’re a member of, your personal talents or skills, as well as your interests and potential area of study. Don’t forget to ask your own employer about company scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs. Remember to include any organizations your parents or relatives are affiliated with as well, including employers, churches, or clubs. Even your neighborhood or hometown may offer funding for education. The more thorough you are with this list, the more opportunities you will find for scholarship assistance, so take your time and ask family members and friends for help if necessary.

2.Research Appropriate Organizations
Put your researching skills to the test (you’ll need them in college) as you investigate pertinent organizations for each item on your list. The Internet is your best bet for finding these groups, and scholarship search engines can be a big help in obtaining information as well.

If you play the oboe, check out the Double Reed Society. If you’re an aspiring potter, your state may have a potters’ association that offers aid. Involved in environmental issues in your community? Look into the many non-profit organizations working on conservation projects. Planning to major in education or engineering? Many organizations offer funding to students based on their intended course of study, so don’t forget to look into this option.

3.Make Contacts & Request Applications
Once you’ve discovered the groups that might have an interest in you, find out if they offer scholarship money. This information may be available on the organization’s webpage, but if it’s not don’t be afraid to ask. It only takes a few minutes to send an email indicating your plans to study and inquiring about grants for post-secondary education. Your show of motivation could make a good impression on granting organizations.

4.Put It All Together
You have a folder full of applications for various scholarships. Great! Now what? The bad news is that this step of the process will take some elbow grease on your part. The good news is that you can use a lot of the materials that you’ve already developed for applying to colleges. Remember all those letters of recommendation that you had to get? Your advocates can easily alter them for scholarships. Did you pour out your heart in more than a few college essays? Feel free to use them again when appropriate.

Many organizations will require you to write about a topic that pertains to their area of interest. Take the time to reflect and write honestly on the essay topic, making sure to express your determination and desire to further your education. You might be asked to submit a portfolio of work or even a recording of your talent, if eligibility for the scholarship is determined by proficiency. Your grade point average may also be required in many cases, giving you yet another reason to be happy about all that hard work you put in over the last four years.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the scholarship application process is organization. Each scholarship has a different deadline and distinct requirements. Use a calendar to manage your time and prioritize applications by due date. With the paperwork involved in multiple applications, you may find a set of folders to be helpful in keeping all the information together. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s great preparation for those college classes next fall! As with college applications, don’t forget to keep a copy of everything you send out, both for your own records and in case that you have to resubmit something.

5.Follow Up and Think Positively
All the envelopes are stamped and in the mail. You can heave a sigh of relief, but not before making a note to yourself to follow up with each organization in a week’s time to check that they received your materials. After putting in all that work it would be a shame if your application didn’t make it to its intended destination due to lack of postage or an illegible address.

Most organizations should be able to give you an idea of when they will choose grant recipients. If you don’t hear from them for a couple of weeks past this date, drop them a line. Checking in can never hurt (as long as you’re not pestering them every week), and it could give you a leg up over other, less proactive, applicants.

You’ve done your part. Now relax and hope for the best. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things”. The time you put into scholarship research and applications will pay off, if not in the form of funds for school, then in all the things you learn about yourself and the skills you acquire in the process. Good luck!
There’s a lot involved in winning a scholarship, but using the Scholarship Search Tool can help you quickly identify grants for which you can apply. Take a few minutes to check out your options and before you know it you’ll be halfway through this process.