Whether you’re getting an associate degree, getting a bachelor’s, studying law or medicine, or seeking another type of graduate degree, scholarships can be an important part of your financing plan. However, finding out about them, checking your eligibility, and actually applying can seem overwhelming. Considering how they fit into covering your overall expenses, doing your research, starting early, and having an organized plan will help you make the most of these opportunities.
How to Supplement
Of the many scholarships that you may apply for, very few will be what is often referred to as full-ride —those that pay for your tuition, housing, books, and sometimes even other expenses. These are generally reserved for students who have the most extraordinary academic credentials or other skills, such as the exceptional athletic ability. In fact, some scholarships may be very small, just a few hundred dollars.
However, you shouldn’t overlook even these small amounts. Every little bit of funding that you get helps, and it all adds up. In addition, it’s a good idea to look at ways to supplement any scholarships that you get. This is not just true for undergraduate degrees. For example, you can get scholarship money for a graduate law degree, and then you could take out private student loans to supplement it.
Some people may hesitate to go into debt in order to get a degree, but a graduate law degree can help increase your earning potential. For this reason, student loan debt is the one type of debt besides a mortgage that can be positive since your lifetime earnings with a degree tend to be higher. It’s a good idea to make a financial plan that takes all your funding sources into account so that you aren’t stressed about expenses when you should be focusing on your classes.
Do Your Research
Do not assume that scholarships will be unavailable to you just because you do not have a high-grade point average. It’s important to understand that there are many different types and many different ways to qualify. They may be offered by private organizations, by the school itself, or even by individuals. There are even opportunities to apply for international scholarships in some cases.
They might be based more on your financial need than achievement. Some are also very specific and might have few applicants in any given year. For example, there might be one that is specifically for someone from your county who is seeking a degree in landscape architecture. Thorough research will put you in a better position to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.
Get Started Early
There’s really no such thing as too early. Some deadlines may be fairly early in the academic year preceding the one you are applying for. This means that if you are in high school, you should start doing research in your junior year at the latest even though you probably won’t be completing the applications until you are a senior. However, there can be advantages to starting even earlier, as a freshman or a sophomore.
The reason for this is that there might be specific requirements for the scholarship that you can fulfill if you know about them early enough. If you only find out halfway through your junior year that you needed, for example, a certain number of years of studying a language or a musical instrument or a certain type of volunteer work to qualify, it might be too late for you to embark on it. If you’re a freshman or a sophomore, you might have plenty of time to take the steps that you need. Another good reason to start early is to simply take the pressure off. This process really is a marathon and not a sprint, and working on it in little chunks of time is the best way to approach it.
Have a Plan of Action
You need to have a strategy and be organized when you are setting out to complete a big project like this. Use a spreadsheet or whatever type of organizing tool you are comfortable with to keep track of things such as the opportunities that you are interested in, the requirements, deadlines, whether you have applied, and what the result was. You may want to arrange them by priority.
If you’re currently in high school, your school counselor might have some information on scholarships. The colleges that you’re interested in should have information on their websites about availability as well. In addition, you should check out some of the reliable scholarship search engine platforms available online to help you find more obscure options. Check within your own local community as well to see if there are any organizations that offer them.
Read over the directions for applying carefully, making sure you understand all the requirements. Then, make a plan for completing the applications. Try to do a certain number each month, making sure that you include a mix of the more demanding ones that require an essay with those that are less complex. This also helps ensure that you have plenty of time to ask for letters of recommendation.
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