Free money for college is available from many sources. Scholarships and grants are two forms of financial aid that do not have to be paid back. Scholarships are competitive, usually requiring you to show achievement in a specific area, such as academics, sports or music. Scholarships are sometimes, but not always, based on financial need, while grants are primarily based on financial need.
Contact your school guidance counselor or the financial aid office of the college you plan to attend. You can obtain scholarship or grant information from either source. If possible, meet with a counselor to discuss your situation and get advice about the best grants and scholarships for you.
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a time-consuming process, so start early. The ACT (formerly American College Testing) website recommends filling it out by "after January 1 during your senior year or the year before you plan to attend college." Providing information about your family's financial situation helps the government determine if you are in financial need. The FAFSA enables you to receive grants and loans from the federal government. According to the Department of Education, "The Department's Federal student aid programs are the largest source of student aid in America."
Compile information about your achievements. Most scholarships will require you to fill out an application. To have the appropriate information readily available, make a list of awards you've won and activities you've participated in. The ACT website says to consider your talents in the ares of athletics, extracurricular involvement, leadership, volunteer work, art, theater and music. You also need to know your grade point average and class rank for many scholarship applications.
Gather scholarship information and forms. Scholarships may be available to students of your specific high school. The college you plan to attend will have specific scholarships for their students as well. These are usually the best scholarships to apply for because they are limited to a smaller pool of students. Scholarships are also available from corporations and a wide range of organizations.
Fill out the scholarship applications. Be sure to submit all of the required paperwork, including essays and transcripts. Mail these in before the deadline so you don't miss your opportunity.
Wait for responses. If you receive any scholarships or grants, fill out any confirmation forms you receive. If appropriate, include a "thank you" letter for any scholarships to show your appreciation.
Apply for as many scholarships as possible.
If you are already in college, it's not too late to apply for grants and scholarships. There are still opportunities available.
Be careful to avoid scholarship scams. You should be wary of any website or company wanting you to pay money for scholarship information.
Kerri Cox is an elementary librarian and former high school English teacher. She began writing for Internet publications in 2009. Her informative articles, focusing on education and parenting, have been published on eHow.com. Cox has bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Missouri State University.