Are you looking for free money for college? College scholarships and grants abound, but how do you establish yourself as a recipient? The simple answer to this is: Those who do not apply will not receive. Money will not come to you unless you tell it you are there and waiting.
What do I need to do?
The first step for most college aid is to apply for the FAFSA. The FAFSA allows you to establish eligibility for – and to be considered for – federal grants and awards such as the Pell and FSEOG. These do not need to be repaid and are awarded based on your family's need.
In addition to establishing eligibility for federal grants, many institutions use the FAFSA to judge eligibility for institution-specific grants. These grants can extend well beyond the grants the government will provide. This is especially true at more expensive private institutions, which may cost more on the surface, but also have larger endowments and understand the value of attracting motivated students. Usually, once you are accepted at such colleges, these colleges will tell you what kind of financial package they can offer you, including scholarships and grants.
If you need help completing your FAFSA, free appointments can be made at www.collegeplanningcenter.org.
So what to do once you have applied for the FAFSA and other need-based awards through the government and individual institutions?
Other than need-based awards, most awards are merit-based – but merit-based does not always mean you need to have a 4.0. Many scholarships have GPA requirements as low as 2.0, or do not judge based on GPA at all. In these cases, you only need to demonstrate sufficient skill or involvement in other areas such as community service or involvement.
Scholarships can also focus on different geographic regions. Nation-wide scholarships tend to be more competitive, while local scholarships are usually easier to obtain. Rhode Island Scholarships' scholarship database can help Rhode Island students find local scholarships that may be difficult to locate otherwise. Other more general scholarship engines also exist that can help locate other scholarships.
Once you have received all possible scholarship and grant awards, the next option are loans, which need to be repaid, or paying out of pocket. So while you have time, give yourself the resources to apply, apply, and apply for that free money for college that's waiting for you.