Did you know that you can get free money for college? Yes, it is actually possible to reduce or even avoid student loan debt! Want to know how? Read on…
Since the 1980s, there has been a more than 200% and 130% rise in the cost of tuition at four-year public schools and private nonprofit schools, respectively. This has led to massive education debt, reaching $1.64 trillion to be exact. For example, 69% of the class of 2019, took out student loans, with an average loan of $29,900. Across the 44 million Americans holding debt, it will take an average of 18.5 years to pay off all student debt. Disappointingly, the federal minimum wage has actually decreased when accounting for inflation.
The fact is that pursuing higher education is putting us and our youth in massive debt that follows them for years.
On the latest episode of the podcast, we featured Yaritza Gonzalez of College Money Chica, an Ivy-League graduate, scholarship winner, and higher education professional who won six-figures in scholarships to pay for two degrees and avoid carrying student loan debt into her adult life. While working at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, she realized there were tons of college scholarships that, at times, would go unclaimed due to a lack of applicants. Through her college admissions coaching business, she helps families know their options and sift through the thousands of scholarships that are out there.
If you are looking for scholarships for college, there is definitely plenty of them out there for you. The challenge lies in finding them. Let’s review some strategies for getting free money for college.
What You Need to Know Before Starting Your Scholarship Search
First, you need to understand the four main sources of funding for an undergraduate education: federal funding, state funding, institutional scholarships, and external scholarships. We will be focusing on the last two, as they are the ones that do not need to be paid back.
For an institutional scholarship, you need to have a short-list of what schools you want to attend. Scholarships and grants can be need or merit-based. A need-based grant is based on your familial income level, while a merit-based grant is based on your academic achievements, passion projects, or character qualities. A common misconception is that private, out-of-state colleges are expensive. Often, these are the schools that have the most to give because 1) they have endowed scholarships, and 2) they have a smaller student pool, thus there is more financial aid to give away. Our executive assistant at Yo Quiero Dinero got her undergraduate education for free by going to a private, out-of-state school; had she stayed in her home state of California, she would have had to take out about $32,000 in loans.
For external scholarships, you will need either an excellent guidance counselor or resourceful Google skills. You can get external scholarships for anything you can think of, from why you think a joke is great, to demonstrating how you have been a leader at your school and community level.
Common External Scholarship Themes
Use this list to run through different themes. As you go through each, write your response. This will help give you search categories when looking for external scholarships. You want to make sure that the scholarships you choose to apply to are relevant, as you will not only have a higher chance of receiving them but will also find the process more enjoyable.
- First in your family to go to college?
- Low income?
- Passion projects
- Academic achievements
- Examples of leadership
- Professional and career interests
- What is the kind of change you want to create?
Where You Can Find Scholarships & Get Free Money For College
- Your guidance counselor
Think of them as gatekeepers to this information. Befriend them as early as possible, especially when going to a large public school when one guidance counselor can often have over 500 students.
- High school alumni network
Reach out to any alumni that you shared interests with or who are at one of your dream colleges. First-gen alumni will always want to support and give back!
- Scholarship Search Engines
These can get overwhelming, so be sure to give yourself ample time. Most are free, but some platforms operate as a paid subscription, which is usually less than $10/month. Use the list of themes above to narrow your search. Here are some of the best engines out there:
Competitive, Renowned College Scholarships
Many of the external scholarships you will find on the massive databases are one-time awards. There are other scholarship programs that, while requiring more work, time, and effort, offer outstanding benefits—some guaranteeing you a free four-year Education. The following is a list of combined academic and merit-based, competitive scholarships to consider if you are first-generation or low income.
For “high school seniors who have shown outstanding academic ability despite financial challenges.” This scholarship will give you a full-ride to one of its 42 partner colleges across the nation, ranging from Columbia University to University of Pennsylvania.
The foundation “identifies, recruits, and trains individuals with extraordinary leadership potential.” Scholars are recruited in 10 different cities and attend, full-ride, some of the nation’s best colleges and universities.
TGS “is a highly selective, last-dollar scholarship for outstanding, minority, high school seniors from low-income households.” This scholarship can be used at the university of your choice and provides fellowships for a graduate degree in certain areas for all recipients.
This is for “high-achieving high school seniors with financial need who seek to attend and graduate from the nation’s best four-year colleges and universities.”
Things to Remember
While grades and GPA are important, they are not the only factors. Competitive scholarships are essay contests, so focus some of your energy on understanding your story and working on how to tell it. There is plenty of free money for college available, so make sure you’re not saying no to yourself by not even applying!
First generation college students who have known struggle offer so much to the world. The world we want to create is led by the people who experience its areas of growth. Allow yourself to tell your story and believe in its importance.