By Freda Freeman
Many high school students are excitedly visiting college campuses and busy filling out college admissions applications. Early admission is in the fall while regular admission continues into the spring.
For college-bound students, the stress of filling out applications and writing personal essays can be overwhelming. Trying to figure out how to pay for college can be even more daunting. But there is money out there, if they’re willing to put in the work to find it.
“Apply for everything and anything. For me, it was year-round, even after I graduated senior year in high school. There are tons of people that want to help students get into academia, they want people to succeed. You just have to find the ones that are the right fit for you,” Samantha Leach said.
Leach, 21, a Raleigh native, is a senior at Clemson University, where she’s earning a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering. Leach paid for college with scholarships and grants. “A little before my senior year in high school, I realized I needed to fund college. I come from a single parent household, and I lived with my grandparents at the time, so I understood I needed to do something. So, in addition to my senior classes, I took on scholarship searching like it was another class. I spent an entire year constantly applying for scholarships and working on essays,” she said.
And it paid off – literally. Leach received more than $100,000 in scholarships and grants and will graduate debt free. She’s also been awarded scholarships to cover her master’s degree.
According to college scholarship statistics, over 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships are awarded annually, totaling more than $7.4 billion.
Leach said applying for scholarships and grants takes time, creativity, and organization. Leach, who applied for over 50 scholarships, used a spreadsheet to keep track of application and essay deadlines. She encourages others to apply for every scholarship they can – big, small, academic, financial need-based, national organizations, local community groups, even those they think are out of reach.
“There’s so much available out there. It’s difficult to sift through, and it’s easy to get discouraged, but go for it. And don’t let failure and rejection hold you back. I said I’m going to go for it and try to get whatever I can,” she said.
James Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars, which provides more than $2 million in scholarships annually, said, unfortunately, many scholarships go unawarded.
“Oh my gosh, there’s so much money. Not only do the universities offer scholarships, but I would say Google is a student’s best friend when they’re looking for scholarship assistance. There are so many other opportunities for scholarships; it could be the state you grew up in, the church you attend, civic associations. They’re out there, they’re available, and there are many scholarships that aren’t used each year. It’s a shame that there’s money available, but the students don’t take the time to identify those,” he said.
There are even unique or off-beat scholarships available, such as scholarships for left-handed people or women taller than 6-feet-5 inches. In addition to NSHSS, websites’ scholarships.com and niche.com are a good place to start looking.
Lewis offers students several tips when researching colleges and scholarships: apply early and often, ideally starting in your junior year; don’t assume you’re not eligible because of academic merit or family income; and apply with intent, following directions when filling out applications and financial forms and making sure your application reflects who you are and why you’re deserving.
“I always encourage families to know that the financial investment can be offset by financial aid and through scholarships, and to think big because some of these great universities want diversity, all sorts of diversity: academic, geographic, racial,” he said.