When considering whether or not to spend your time applying for scholarships, the first detail to get into order is your exact level of need. We recommend doing this well before your college acceptances — it’s never too early to apply for free money! Don’t be too shy to ask your parents for their level of income so that you can have a better idea of where you stand. Once you have this information, you can start by referencing the FAFSA form and/or inquiring about general financial aid levels and subsequent packages at private and public institutions. Private institutions tend to have larger and wider-reaching financial aid packages than public institutions do, but there are also many independent scholarships available for students who qualify as low-income under a variety of income brackets.
If your school offers need-based aid, unfortunately, due to federal regulations, outside scholarships you win will be deducted from your financial aid package. However, many schools will make sure it is deducted from the student loan or work-study portion of your package so that you still receive the full award. If your package does not include loans/work-study, or the award is larger than both, many schools will allow you to put the money towards buying a laptop or textbooks. Google “school name” and “outside scholarship policy,” or call the financial aid office to find out the policies of schools you’re considering. Don’t be afraid to call — sometimes the most pertinent pieces of information are the most difficult to obtain. However, if your school does not meet students’ full financial need (common with public state universities), or if you do not qualify for financial aid, then any outside scholarships will directly reduce the cost of tuition.
Look into which potential colleges have scholarships in addition to — or despite their lack of — financial aid. For example, some elite institutions have “named” scholarships, which means that the donor looks for certain characteristics in a student and they don’t necessarily have to be a full financial aid recipient to get the amount specified. Some colleges do not have robust financial aid programs, but there are specific scholarships you can apply to that are for their programs. For example, the Robertson Scholarship at partner institutions UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University is a full tuition scholarship that will only apply if you choose to attend either of those two schools. Further, some undergraduate institutions have programs where if you continue to their graduate schools they will automatically award you a scholarship; the Chicago Law Scholars program is an example. Undergraduates simply apply early as juniors or seniors and then get $ 150,000 off of the price of The University of Chicago Law School.
Some scholarships are for outside costs specifically, such as books or living expenses, which means that even if you receive full financial aid you actually get cash to use them and do not necessarily have to report them to the financial aid office as rewards garnered. Independent scholarships tend to be more diverse in that there are many ways to garner them. There are essay contests, art/creative scholarships, and scholarships based on community projects and/or outstanding achievements that students have completed. We always encourage students who have some artistic ability and enjoy painting, sculpting, photography, or other creative activities to apply to art/creative scholarships indiscriminately. Since these are more specific scholarships as is, they tend to be much less selective. Essay scholarships are also easy, as it is possible to repurpose anything you’ve previously written to a variety of prompts. For overachievers who start their own community projects and non-profits, “prestige” scholarships are perfect.