Searching for Scholarships in Second Semester Can Pay Off Big
Scholarships Don't Always Need to Be as Relevant as You'd Think
Like True, Jocelyn Panoita, 25, graduated college debt free thanks to scholarships, which she quickly realized didn't necessarily even need to be related to her major or background.
"The strangest scholarship was a golf scholarship that had nothing to do with me playing golf," said Panoita. The scholarship itself, which awarded her $4,000 a year, was given by the Jimmy Rane Foundation and based on leadership skills. It was funded by a golf tournament. Panoita had to go through an extensive process of essay writing and interviewing to win the scholarship.
Paonita used her experience paying for college with scholarships to become a college funding expert and start her own business called The Scholarship System. Now she helps other students figure out how to pay for college without debt and how to get scholarships for college. Part of the strategy is letting students in on a little secret: competition for scholarships isn't so fierce after freshman year.
Upperclassmen Often Fail to Aggressively Apply for Scholarships
Paonita as well as Jason Butler, financial aid counselor at Georgia State University, both agree that students seem far less likely to apply for scholarships after freshman year. This may be due to laziness or a misconception that there aren't as many opportunities for upperclassmen.
"I believe the competition is much more slim once [students] get to college so, if anything, that is the best time to apply," Paonita said.
Where to Find Scholarships
Carissa Uhlman, 37, is the Vice President of Student Success at Inceptia, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting financial literacy and reducing student loan default. Uhlman recommends you start your scholarship search with your college's financial aid office as they may be able to help connect you with institutional aid, on-campus employment opportunities or even local or national scholarships. She also encourages students to work their network by asking loved ones if any of their groups, churches or local organizations offer scholarships. Uhlman herself won a scholarship from the Army for children of military parents.
True recommends joining and networking within organizations related to your course of study. "The number one way I found scholarships was by joining professional organizations as a student member," he said. "Nearly all different engineering organizations had a few scholarships they gave out every year. So I joined every single one I could find."
Once you've exhausted those resources, you can turn to online options. Uhlman suggests BigFuture.org, Fastweb.com and Unigo - which allow you to search by school year, making it easy for upperclassmen to find relevant scholarships. She also recommends the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored site CareerOneStop, which allows you to search for scholarships, as well as grants and fellowships. You can also use the Discover Student Loans Free Scholarship Search Tool, which helps you search 3 million scholarships worth more than $18 billion. There's no registration required.
Paonita also suggests scouring company websites in your field of interest to see if they offer scholarships.
Not to mention, some opportunities may be completely unrelated to your field of study or even a skill you thought you possessed. Uhlman points to the Duct Tape sponsored scholarship which offers up to $10,000 for making prom clothes out of duct tape.
No matter how you elect to search for scholarships, be wary of scams. Uhlman warns that you should never be paying to look for scholarships.
Ultimately, Getting Scholarships Does Take Hard Work
For all those encouraged to start aggressively applying for scholarships, True offers some advice: "If you really want scholarships," he said, "you should keep your GPA up, learn how to write well, build good relationships with professors and try to get experience in your profession."