If you're like most high school seniors, your parents, teachers and just about everyone else has probably told you that you should apply for college grants and scholarships. But every time you've looked into it, it seemed like a lot of work and you assumed there's little likelihood that you'll get any. After all, how many college grants and scholarships are out there? How many would you even qualify for? And would they make a big difference?
It turns out figuring out how to apply for scholarships and grants could be quite lucrative. In the 2014−15 academic year, post-secondary students received an impressive $123.8 billion of scholarships and grants, according to the College Board.
So with billions of dollars in grants and scholarships being awarded each year for a long list of reasons (e.g., merit, need, athletics, community service, heritage, arts, language, religion), there is likely something in there for you — you just have to find it.
What Are Your Chances of Getting Free Money?
Think that only a small handful of students get college scholarships and grants? Think again. Among the billions of dollars college students received in 2014−15, the College Board found that 37 percent came from federal sources, 41 percent from colleges, 14 percent from private organizations and 8 percent from state sources.
This means that two-thirds of eligible full-time undergraduate students received free money because they completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Many schools also use the FAFSA to award institutional and state aid, so completing it is an easy first step to securing college grants and scholarships to help pay for school.
Does Money Really Go Unclaimed?
If you've ever heard people say that millions of dollars in college grants and scholarships go unclaimed every year and thought they were exaggerating, you'd be wrong.
While it is hard to quantify the amount of college scholarship money that goes unclaimed, grants are a different story. NerdWallet's study found that high school graduates in 2017 left $2.3 billion in federal grant money on the table. Why? A full 36 percent of them didn't complete the FAFSA. Of these students, 49 percent were eligible for Pell Grants and missed out on an average of $3,583 each in free money.
How Much Can Grants Cover?
You might not think that grant aid will make a difference when it comes to reducing how much your family needs to pay and how much you'll need to take out in student loans — but it can.
The College Board's 2017 Trends in Student Aid report found that students accepted $125.4 billion in grant aid in the 2016−2017 school year. This worked out to $8,440 per undergraduate student and $9,290 per graduate student. Compared to a decade ago, these amounts represent a 61 percent increase in grant aid for undergraduate students and a 39 percent increase for graduate students.
With students receiving such sums, it's clear that grants can play a significant role in helping the average student reduce the amount they have to pay or borrow for college.
So, Should You Apply?
Ultimately, these statistics reveal that there are a significant number of free money available each year, so finding out how to apply for scholarships and grants is worth the effort. Get started by filling out the FAFSA each year and searching online for scholarships that are a good fit for you. Also remember to check with your high school, college and your local community for opportunities. Any amount you win will help offset your out-of-pocket costs and the amount you may need to borrow. You might just receive more than you expect!
FAFSA is a registered service mark of the US Department of Education.