We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
The average student spends $32,889 a year to attend college and earn a degree. Meanwhile, private university students spend an average of $53,102 per academic year. Unfortunately, the cost only continues to creep upward, increasing by 5.2% each year.
If you can’t afford the premium cost of a college education, you aren’t alone. Roughly 70% of American students graduate with debt and 45 million Americans still owe $1.6 trillion in student loans. However, taking out loans isn’t the only way to pay for college.
Both public and private scholarships can help pay for education-related expenses and get you that degree. Here are a few ways to find and win these scholarships.
1. Earn a Merit Scholarship
One of the easiest ways to find a scholarship is to earn one outright. While you’re still in high school, dedicate yourself to your classes. Strive for good grades and a high-grade point average, even if it means limiting extracurricular activities and social events.
Schools and private organizations awarding academic scholarships might also use your ACT or SAT scores to determine your merit. Therefore, you must prioritize studying for both classes and standardized exams.
2. Enter an Essay Contest
Not everyone can boast of an amazing GPA and high test scores. However, if you have a knack for writing, you may use your creativity to earn a scholarship.
Enter an essay contest and craft a thoughtful, high-quality article using one of their prompts or a topic of your choosing. Writing such an essay requires time and effort, something that many students don’t have. Consequently, there will likely be fewer contestants, maximizing your chances of winning.
3. Compete With Creativity
If essay writing isn’t your strong suit, consider using other artistic talents to compete for and win scholarships. For example, if you’re a musician, send a vocal or instrumental sample to your college of choice or use it to enter a competition.
Many universities and organizations also offer scholarships for photography, dance, graphic design, animation, performing arts, fashion, and more. Remember to create an online portfolio to collect samples of your best work and make applications quick and easy.
4. Use Employer Scholarships
Does your employer offer scholarships? If you’re unsure, you may want to ask. Many companies, including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, offer tuition reimbursements and scholarships regardless of whether you work part-time or full time.
Your parents’ employers might even offer scholarships for family members. For instance, Burger King awards scholarships to spouses and children of employees who are high school seniors, have a GPA of at least 2.5, and are passionate about serving the community.
5. Flex Your Athletic Abilities
If you’re the most valuable player on the court or captain of the football team, you may be able to find and secure an athletic scholarship. Of course, finding big-league awards through the NCAA may be tricky. However, they’re not your only option.
Look for private scholarships through organizations and foundations to maximize tuition aid and increase your chances of receiving an award. Additionally, express your interest in playing sports in college as you meet with admissions officers.
6. Showcase Your STEM Skills
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — or STEM — scholarships are growing in number. As the world continues to transition to digital, more STEM-related jobs are popping up across the globe. However, employers are having a difficult time filling these positions.
To encourage students to enter the STEM field and take advantage of these opportunities, many companies and organizations now provide financial assistance. Thus, if you are in a STEM major or program, you may be eligible for a substantial scholarship.
7. Reach Out to Local Organizations
If you actively volunteer or partner with your church, there may be a religious scholarship for you. Many religious organizations offer financial assistance to show commitment to their members and give back to the community.
Local civic organizations and even small businesses may also offer scholarships. Connect with a few groups in your community and ask around to see if any have assistance programs or offer college funding. The sooner you reach out, the better.
8. Search Online Databases
There are thousands of scholarships out there, but finding one you’re eligible for can be difficult, especially if you don’t have much time to search. Luckily, various free scholarship search services will sift through online databases for you.
Simply fill in a brief online profile and let the computer do all the work for you. Use services like FastWeb, Scholarships.com, Broke Scholar, and ScholarshipExperts.com to quickly narrow down your options and find aid fast.
Finding More Financial Aid
Scholarships aren’t the only way to pay for college. If you don’t want to take out a loan or end up with debt, look for grants, internships, and federal student aid for financial assistance. Talk to parents, older siblings, classmates, teachers, and advisors to discover the vast array of opportunities available to you.
With dedication, hard work, and a little bit of time, you can find financial aid. Even if it doesn’t fully cover college-related expenses, it will undoubtedly make a dent in the cost and minimize debt.