Second only to printer ink cartridges, a college diploma must be the most expensive item that will be purchased during your lifetime. Tuition at a private university can sometimes exceed the median household income of families in the United States, and in the present day, having this extremely expensive degree does not even ensure a job, much less a lucrative salary to justify its price. Of course, for those in need, financial aid helps ease the cost of tuition; however, these opportunities are not equally open for all students. Undocumented and foreign students do not have access to the same monetary resources, which could prevent them the opportunity of enrolling and pursuing the education of their dreams. While governmental aid may be impossible for these students, there are still many scholarship or fellowship opportunities made available by private or public organizations, so there is still hope!
A huge consideration I had to make when going through the college process was the question of how to handle finances. In addition to myself, my younger brother was also planning on attending university so my family had to budget for two tuitions. During my senior year of high school, I started to look around for ways that I could reduce the cost of tuition. My school had a few opportunities available, but nothing too extensive. Then, I stumbled upon Fastweb, a scholarship search site that compiles information about various scholarships from different sponsors in one location. While most of their listings were not great, I was able to find a few reputable scholarships from their service, and get a decent amount of money! This sparked my addiction to finding what I see as free money, and I have kept my search going until this day.
From my experience, the main reason that students do not apply for scholarships is laziness. Either they feel bored in having to search expensively for the opportunities, or feel that they do not have the time to complete hefty applications or write essays. Of course, finding the right opportunities is the most difficult part, and the more obscure your source, the better your chances since others most likely will not have spent the time searching. Searching is a technique that requires practice – being able to sift through scholarships and identify which are legitimate is important and requires time. On the other hand, filling out applications and essays is the easy part. One of the most important things I have learned from applying to countless programs and fellowships is that almost every essay prompt can be manipulated to suit whatever point of view you would like to tackle. After spending countless hours writing various essays for college supplements, I have 3 or 4 essays that I rearrange to fit whatever application I need, so I spend almost no time on scholarship applications. In addition to essays, references or letters of recommendation are commonly required for scholarships. For this portion, make sure that you become close to whoever you feel knows you best, either a professor or coach as example, and ask if they would agree to write you a letter. Similar to essays, once a letter of recommendation is written, it requires little time for minor tweaks.
All in all, if you are serious about scholarships – spend the time up front to do everything well (ie essays, recommendations, etc.) and then check for new opportunities every once in a while. If you spend 2 hours looking through potential opportunities, apply to 10 scholarships, and end getting only one with a $500 reward, you will have made $250 an hour – not bad pay!