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How to Pay for College With Scholarships

by Sophie Herron, on May 29, 2014 11:59:00 AM

We know college is a huge investment—of time and money—and as a busy student, navigating the financial aid process and applying for scholarships on top of the regular application process can feel daunting.

So we sat down with Raul Alvarez, Content Manager at College Greenlight, a website dedicated to all things scholarship, to discuss how students of all backgrounds can pay for college with scholarships.

Sophie Herron (SH): Let's start at the beginning: objections to scholarships. When I was applying to college, the accepted wisdom was that getting outside scholarships took away from your financial aid--and time away from your actual applications—and I think that's still a common misconception. Can you explain the benefit of applying for outside scholarships for students beginning their college process?

Raul Alvarez (RA): While financial aid offices may adjust your aid depending on how many scholarships you’ve earned, it is never a bad idea to apply for scholarships. Every college is going to use slightly different methods for determining a student’s financial needs, but a scholarship is guaranteed money you can use for school. Scholarships are extraordinarily helpful for students, especially students who have a financial aid gap.

SH: Where are the best places on the web to look for scholarships? 

RA: College Greenlight is your best bet. We have the largest scholarship database on the internet, and match scholarships to you based on your academics, interests, and where you live. Furthermore, you can build a list of scholarships you’re interested on our site and filter them by factors like deadline, level of competition, and how much effort they require. We also are 100% ad free so you can simply find the scholarships you need without tons of annoying pop up screens or unnecessary information.

SH: That sounds really helpful, especially the metrics of competition and effort. How can students make the scholarship application process manageable? Do you have any strategies or organizational tips for students struggling under all those deadlines and requirements?

RA: Trying to keep track of multiple deadlines, eligibility requirements, and application materials can be frustrating! It’s important to plan ahead when you are applying for multiple scholarships. For instance, if you find 4 or 5 opportunities you would like to apply for, take a moment to schedule out exactly when each different application will need to be completed. Then, I recommend seeing if there are any materials you can use for multiple applications. You can often use a single essay for multiple scholarship applications with only minor revisions to each different version.

In addition, at College Greenlight we’ve taken all of these issues into account when we built our scholarship database and student profile pages. With a student profile, we will automatically organize each of the scholarships on your list by deadline, and you can easily review what the eligibility requirements and application materials are for each scholarship in your list.

SH: Are most scholarships for first-years at four-year colleges? 

RA: While the percentage of scholarships available to high school seniors who plan on matriculating to four-year colleges is larger than for any other demographic, there are still thousands and thousands of scholarships for students in any stage of their education. The College Greenlight scholarship database has a wealth of options for students as early along as their freshman year in high school all the way to scholarships for post-graduate studies. We also have scholarships for students who will be attending a 2-year program or other educational track. You do not have to be attending a 4-year college or university to qualify for a great scholarship.

SH: I admit, I asked that because when I was going through the database, I was suprised at the number of scholarships available for students entering thier sophmore, junior, or senior years at college. What are the most surprising or interesting scholarships you know of?

RA: My favorite scholarship at the moment is the STARFLEET scholarship. It’s a $1,000 scholarship for members of STARFLEET, which is the international Star Trek Fan Association! There is another awesome scholarship for students that create the most interesting prom dress or tuxedo out of Duct Tape that is available each year. There are several pretty unique scholarships on our latest list as well!

SH: Finally, if you could give your younger self advice about applying to college and landing college scholarships, what would you tell him? 

RA: I would tell him to be persistent. Applying for scholarships is hard work, but the more you practice, the better your chances at earning a great opportunity become! Think of applying to scholarships like any other job. If you invest 10 hours of your time applying for several scholarships and win $1,000 – that translates to each hour of your work being worth about $100! And I would also encourage him to look for a variety of opportunities. Apply for the big ones (the Gates Millennium Scholarship, the Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Questbridge College Match) as well as unique and interesting opportunities that will have smaller levels of competition. I would encourage him to check out local scholarship opportunities because they are also easier to win. And most of all, I’d let him know that winning a scholarship is a lot easier than you’d think! There are so many scholarships out there that a hard working student with a enough grit can find several great options!

SH: I would tell myself the same thing! And I think my parents would thank me. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with our readers!

RA: My pleasure.

Raul AlvarezRaul Alvarez is the content manager for College Greenlight, the web's best free resource for first generation and underrepresented students. He is responsible for curating and managing the College Greenlight blog, newsletters, and social media platforms to nurture meaningful communication with students, counselors, and teachers. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a BA in English and also holds an MFA from Columbia College Chicago.

Topics:college admission