Y’all, college is freaking expensive. If you’re in high school, you might be seriously stressed out right now trying to figure out how you’re going to afford to go to school in a few months or years—or maybe you haven’t been thinking about it at all (I get it. I didn’t think about it much when I was in high school either. But I probably should’ve).
Or maybe you think that student loans are the only way you’ll be able pay for college. But guess what? That’s not true!
Don’t stress, you guys. There are plenty of ways to get free money to help you cash flow your education (Yep—I said free! That means you don’t have to pay it back.). I’ve got three words for you: Look. For. Scholarships.
Going to college debt-free is possible! Find out how.
Here’s something I wish someone would’ve told me back in the day: Don’t assume that finding and filling out scholarship applications takes too much time to be worth it. Some scholarships only offer a few hundred dollars, and that might sound lame compared to the thousands you’ll need. But think of it like earning a paycheck. When you consider it’ll probably take an hour or less to apply, you’re talking about earning hundreds of dollars an hour! That’s pretty legit.
But with so many different scholarships out there, it’s hard to even know where to look. Here are some scholarship tips to get you started:
1. Fill Out the FAFSA.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that schools use to figure out if you qualify for financial aid, and how much financial aid to offer you. That money could come in the form of scholarships, grants or student loans.
Scholarships and grants are dope because you don’t have to repay them—ever. With student loans, on the other hand, you have to spend years of your life after graduation making monthly payments. Plus, interest rates on loans mean you end up paying way more than you originally borrowed. Not cool. So, just remember: Use the FAFSA to get scholarships and grants only.
How to Fill Out the FAFSA:
Go to the fafsa.gov home page and follow the prompts.
Sign and submit the form. Your part is done! Once you hit that submit button, the form will be sent to the financial aid offices at your schools of choice. They’ll crunch some numbers, and if you qualify for aid, they’ll send you an award letter telling you what kind and how much.
To qualify to receive financial aid, you need to have a high school diploma or GED certificate and be accepted or enrolled in an eligible degree or certificate program—so if you haven’t applied to any colleges as of right now, you don’t need to worry about the FAFSA just yet. But if you have applied and been accepted, you can (and should) start filling it out.
A lot of people wonder if you have to fill out the FAFSA to go to college. It’s not required, but if filling it out means you could potentially get thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants to help you cover the cost of college, then why the heck not? There’s no income cutoff to be eligible for aid, and if you keep filling it out every year that you’re in college, you could get even more money. That’s what I like to see.
2. Talk With Your Guidance Counselor.
If you have access to guidance counselors or college advisors at your school, take full advantage of that and ask if they can help you find scholarships. There are all kinds of Educational Opportunity Programs out there—like the Federal TRIO Programs that help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, first-generation college students, and others. Your school should be able to give you more info on that and other programs like it, or you can research them on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Since the guidance counselors are at your high school and familiar with the nearby area, they’ll probably also know about scholarships offered by local community organizations or local businesses who want to help college students. They may be able to help you start the application process by getting you in touch with those people. Sometimes, all it takes is a short essay to apply (If you’re lucky, your English teacher might even be down to proofread it for you.).
3. Contact College Financial Aid Offices.
When it comes to finding scholarships that come directly from colleges, your best bet is to reach out to the financial aid offices at each individual school you apply to, or to look up scholarship info on the college websites. Most colleges offer both need-based and merit-based scholarships and will spell out all the details you need to know.
And check this out: Did you know that some scholarships awarded by colleges have nothing to do with academics? That’s right! Not all scholarships are for straight-A students or geniuses who score a perfect 36 on the ACT (Real talk: How do y’all do it?). Plenty of money is available to students who have incredible leadership skills or an impressive list of extracurriculars, so be sure to look into those other scholarship options.
4. Ask Your Parents’ Employers If They Offer Scholarships.
Here’s one option that not many students think about: getting funds from your mom or dad’s workplace! There are actually a lot of companies that provide scholarships to their employees’ kids, but those opportunities aren’t always well promoted. Ask your parents to connect with their HR department—it could be as simple as having them talk to an HR staff member or filling out a short application!
5. Research Organizations in Your Field of Interest.
Know you want to major in engineering? Spend some time researching the college scholarships offered by NASA, the American Society of Naval Engineers, or whatever organization is most related to the specific type of engineering you’re interested in. Going to school for culinary arts? The National Restaurant Association, American Culinary Federation, and plenty of other organizations like those want to pay for talented students in that field to hone their skills!
All it takes is some research to find the scholarships that apply to your specific career goals. I promise you, the money is out there.
6. Use an Online Scholarship Search Tool.
Honestly, sometimes you just need help filtering through all the options out there. A scholarship search tool will help you filter through thousands of scholarships and find the scholarships that fit your situation!
Now let’s be real: You still have to put in some serious time and effort applying for these scholarships. Some might ask you to write essays, answer tough questions, or even interview—but some could require little to no effort. If you treat the scholarship search process like a part-time job by spending at least an hour a day filling out applications, it will pay off.
Listen up, guys. Applying for scholarships is just one of the ways you can cash flow your college education—there are plenty of other things you can do to help you graduate with zero dollars of debt! Yeah, that’s right. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Want to learn more about how to go to school without loans? My new book, Debt-Free Degree, is the book all college-bound students—and their parents—need to prepare for this next step. Grab a copy today or start reading for free to get plenty of tips on going to college debt-free!