If you are planning on attending college in the future, or have a loved one who is, chances are you have looked into scholarships and how they can allay the cost of your tuition. Here are seven tips to help you on your road to higher education.

One: Scholarships are a gift.

With the rise in tuition, seeking funding should be a part of your college preparation process. As a teen, there is a high likelihood that you will need help meeting these costs. Whoever assists you with your college tuition, whether it be your parents or your rich aunt Martha, you can save them some money.

And if you decide to utilize a college loan, that is a debt you can spend years paying off. Why not see if you can get some help that you don’t have to pay back? It only costs you time and academic effort.

Two: Scholarships come in all shapes and sizes.

Many scholarships are merit-based, meaning you earn them by meeting or exceeding certain established criteria. Other scholarships are based on financial need. A merit-based scholarship might be awarded based on academic achievement, special talent, trait, or interest. But your household income may be too high to qualify you for a similar need-based scholarship.

Still other scholarships are geared toward particular groups of people. For example, there are scholarships for women, employees, children of employees, military families, ethnic groups, and religious or organization members, just to name a few.

As for how much of the cost a scholarship might cover, it runs the gamut. You may be awarded the entire cost of your tuition, or it could be a one-time award of a few hundred dollars. Either way, it’s worth applying for. It all helps reduce the cost of your education.

Three: You don’t have to pay money to find money.

There are tons of FREE resources that you can utilize to find the scholarships that fit your needs. Such as:

  • the financial aid office at a college or career school
  • a high school counselor
  • the U.S. Department of Labor’s FREE scholarship search tool
  • federal agencies
  • your state grant agency
  • your library’s reference section
  • foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups
  • organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest
  • ethnicity-based organizations
  • your employer or your parents’ employers

The internet has become a fantastic tool for students. FastWeb.com is a great resource for exploring how to maximize your student dollar and to find scholarships related to your interest. Chegg.com has its own scholarship page. There is even a Scholarships.com. To maximize your search, you may want to sign up for one or more online resources.

Also, complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) early. I’d say as early as October of your senior year of high school. The application is used to determine the amount of college expenses you or your family will be expected to pay. All federal grants and loans are determined by the FAFSA, and nearly all colleges use the FAFSA as the basis for their own financial aid awards.

Always make sure that the scholarship information and offers you receive are legitimate. Be cautious of any sites asking for money to find your scholarships. Some of them are scams.

Four: Your scholarship application is due soon.

Each and every scholarship has a deadline for when applications are due. Some are as early as a year before college starts. So, if you're in high school now, you should be researching and applying for scholarships during the summer between your junior and senior years.

There are even some scholarships that will allow you to apply for college as early as 12-years-old (though they are rare). In other words, don’t wait until you have been accepted to your college to start looking into scholarships. Start, at least, in your junior year of high school, preferably as early as your freshman year of high school.

Five: Already accepted into college? Your scholarship application is due now!

Even if you are already accepted into college, you should still look to see what scholarships may still be available to you. Different scholarships have deadlines every month of the year.

In fact, you should CONTINUE to apply for scholarships throughout your college years. I have a work colleague who paid for her entire undergraduate degree and part of her upper graduate degrees solely by applying for scholarships throughout her time as a student.

Six: Keep track of who is giving you money…and who isn’t.

Don’t try to keep a mental log of your scholarships. If you apply for more than three, and you will need to if you truly want to earn a scholarship, there are too many variables to consider.

Do a quick online search for “Scholarship Tracking Spreadsheets.” (There’s those helpful internet tools again!) You will find a wide variety of available trackers. One of my favorites resources is the “Stay On-Track with a Scholarship Application Organizer” page on the unigo.com site. It gives you a great idea of what to have on a spreadsheet as well as a link to your very own, downloadable spreadsheet.

If you prefer to create your own, a scholarship tracking spreadsheet should include:

  • Scholarship name
  • Scholarship provider
  • Contact information
  • URL for additional information or online application
  • Deadline date
  • Award amount
  • Criteria (age, grade, GPA, etc.)
  • Documentation required (transcript, financial records, letters of recommendation, essays, etc.)

Seven: Free money is never boring.

Granted, many scholarship applications take time and preparation. But the work is insignificant next to the amount of time you devote to studying, or the time you will spend working, just to pay off student debts.
But not all scholarships are boring. There are some REALLY fun scholarships out there.

One of my favorite scholarships that I’ve found is on the cirkledin.com Scholarships page. It’s the “Master of Minions Scholarship” worth $1,000 with a deadline of 4/30/19.

There’s no minimum GPA and no long essay to write. Here’s the description from the website:

Tell us what you’d have your Minions do!

Have you ever wished you could multiply yourself into a dozen or so people in order to accomplish some really, big goal, task, or project? Have you ever thought, “If only I had more time or resources, I could conquer the world!”? Enter - the Minions! While these cute little guys are usually known for doing more harm than good, in this scenario they exist to carry out your greatest desire.

Now imagine that you get a team of Minions for a week. What would you have them do?

In 3 sentences, tell us What you would have them do?

Doesn’t that sound like fun? It certainly is far less labor-intensive than many other scholarships out here. I just happened to come across this fun scholarship, and there are many of them out there.

But keep in mind, scholarships like this, ones with few requirements and ease of entry, will have a LOT MORE applicants than those scholarships with more qualifications.

Don’t wait to start the scholarship process, and don’t stop once you’ve received your acceptance letters. Find a system that helps you keep track of your scholarships and make the process fun.

Keep looking! You just might find the right scholarship that fits you. Remember, the ultimate goal is to help reduce the cost of your education tuition.

To students and parents alike, good luck!