Most people think that in order to go to college, you have to take out tons of student loans. I’m here to tell you, that is NOT the case. By making some smart decisions, delaying gratification and working really hard, I was able to graduate college completely debt free! One of the main ingredients for staying out of student loan debt is earning scholarships.
Scholarships and grants are free money (money that you don’t have to pay back) that you can use toward college expenses, which makes them super awesome!
“Scholarships and grants are free money”
While in college, I got a lot of little local scholarships. I had an average GPA and a mediocre SAT score, but yet I earned thousands of dollars in scholarships each year. How? By applying. I applied for every local scholarship I could find. Some were only a couple of hundred bucks, but for an hour of my time, I figured it was worth the risk. And, it paid off. One year, I spent about 10 hours of time applying for about 20 local scholarships. I got about half of them, and therefore earn about $7,000, which means I earned $700 an hour. What kind of (legal) part time job can you find that earns that kind of money? Seriously, if you know, let me know. Because I would love to earn $700 an hour writing about, well pretty much anything.
Take some time and apply for the smallest, hardest to find scholarships you can. Those that aren’t broadcasted everywhere sometimes have a very small pool of applicants. Read: none. That means very little or no competition. I got a $750 scholarship once from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I’m still not quite sure what they do) because I was one of only 3 kids who applied. The form consisted of my personal information (address, phone number etc.) and a 100 word essay about why I felt I deserved the scholarship. It took 20 minutes to complete and earned me $750. Boo Ya!
Contact your local churches, non profits, and community organizations to see if they have scholarships that maybe aren’t publically advertised to the world. Contact your high school guidance counselor (even if your already in college) to see if they have some leads on some local scholarships in your area. In my state, the high school guidance counselors published a book of local scholarships that they gave to the high school students each year. While I didn’t get many scholarships in high school, I was very successful in college. My writing skills had gotten better, I had more experiences and extra circulars and the pool of college students applying for scholarships was smaller. They also didn’t care about my SAT scores once I was in college, which seriously worked in my favor because I think I barely broke a 500 on the Math portion. No judgment, right? Also, (and this is just my personal opinion) I feel like organizations know college students need scholarships more. They’re already there, working hard in school and can prove they could use the money.
Along with scholarships, I want to talk about grants. Most people dismiss grants because they feel like they won’t qualify for them. And unless your family has like 25 kids or is really poor, truth be told, you won’t. I didn’t qualify for a single need based anything in college because my parents were considered middle class. They didn’t feel middle class when they had two kids in college, but the government told them they didn’t qualify for any help so that was that. However, my state did provide grants for working students. I worked pretty much every free second I had in college to help pay for school. So I was able to apply for a working student grant that’s only required you worked more than 15 hours a week. I did and so I qualified, just like that. They provided grants up to $3500 to students so you requested how much you needed, and they gave it to you, pretty much with no questions asked. So I requested the maximum amount (why not, right?!) and got it. Every single year I was in college. There were actually a couple working student grants that were available through the state that weren’t advertised but once I contacted them about the first one, they were able to call over to the university, verify that I was a working student, and say some magic word or something to get me another $1500 from the university. And I was all like, thank you very much, I’ll take that too. The moral of the story is it doesn’t hurt to ask.
A lot of colleges and state agencies want to help students get through school, they just don’t have many students who come to them trying to figure out a way to get through college debt free. Put in the effort and simply ask. By doing this, I made connections that were able to help me get money I didn’t even know existed.