It’s easy to let planning for the future fall to the wayside when it still seems so far away. But ensuring the financial stability of your future is important, so it’s never too soon to plan how you’re going to pay for college. Future you will thank you for it when you graduate with less college debt! And you can get ahead of the game and start exploring scholarship options regardless of what high school grade you’re about to enter. Still not convinced? Here are five reasons why you should start your scholarship search earlier than you think.
1. It will help you narrow down your college search
Too many students go into the college search process looking at schools without any attention paid to the difference in prices. While it’s important to pick a school you truly love rather than just settling for the cheapest option, you’ll also need to consider what you can afford. Having conversations with your parents about what they can or can’t contribute to your higher education can be eye-opening; actual college costs can be quite a reality check when it comes to US institutions.
If you want to attend a more expensive school and know your familial contributions won’t quite add up, knowing what scholarship options are available to you gives perspective about the remaining gap needing to be covered by loans (after all, with loans, the less you borrow, the better). Initially, it may seem like you’ve hit the jackpot after winning one $1,000 scholarship—but when many colleges run over $20,000 a year for tuition and room and board, it suddenly seems less than you initially thought. (That’s why you’ll want to apply to as many scholarships as possible.) When you research your scholarship options and have an idea of what schools you can afford were you to win them, you’ll automatically be able to narrow down your college search to fit within some basic financial parameters.
Related: How to Narrow Down Your College List
2. It will motivate you to work hard in school
Do you ever feel like grades don’t matter much because you’ll get into college anyway? Or like you don’t need to join extracurriculars because you know people who do less and are getting accepted to decent colleges? While that may be true, many scholarships are competitive, and doing your best work or picking up an extra activity during high school might be your ticket to an extra few thousand dollars down the road. If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is!
While you shouldn’t participate just for the potential money or a résumé boost, the prospect of “getting paid back” for your dedication with scholarships is very appealing. But don’t work yourself to death trying to meet crazy requirements. Just because you don’t meet the requirements for one scholarship doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough or that you won’t be eligible for many others. You won’t be the right candidate for every scholarship out there, but working hard will ensure you aren’t cheating yourself out of something you could have easily attained otherwise.
3. It will give you time to gather materials and maximize your eligibility
As you probably know, every scholarship has different requirements. If you wait until the last minute to begin searching, you may run out of time to ask for the correct number of recommendations or get your transcript sent before the deadline. Additionally, some scholarship applications are due as early as the summer before your senior year, so if you wait until the school year begins, you’ve already missed out on some opportunities! Knowing ahead of time what various scholarships require and when you can apply can help streamline the application process in many ways; for example, you may be able to minimize the number of recommendation letters you have to ask for by using one or two for several applications, or you could save multiple trips to the school office if you know the correct number of transcript copies you’ll need and when you’ll need them.
4. It will make your schedule and planning easier
Many students struggle with the scholarship search because it’s hard to find time in their busy schedules to write the required essays and complete the applications, which leaves them with less money for college in the long run. So if you’ve already done extensive research into which scholarships you’re interested in and their application deadlines, you’ll be able to build time into your schedule for filling in applications much more easily than if you were to just fly by the seat of your pants. This will not only reduce your stress since you’ve determined when you need to do what for each scholarship but will also free you up to focus on your studies and other activities.
5. It will reduce your senior year stress
Speaking of stress, if you wait to begin your scholarship search during your senior year, it’s just one more thing that will load you down during what’s supposed to be a fun conclusion to the high school chapter of your life. You don’t want to have to choose between researching scholarships and going to that final football game—trust me, I’ve seen friends miss out on fun senior lasts because they were too busy with college applications, schoolwork, and scholarship applications. If you play your cards right, you can minimize the amount of scholarship work you need to do during senior year down to just submitting applications and attending interviews. More free time? Yes, please.
While most of this advice is geared toward starting well before senior year, it’s truly never too late to begin your scholarship search. Even if you’re a new high school graduate or already have a year or two of college under your belt, you can still apply for and win more money to help you pay for your education. Don’t be afraid to jump in now wherever you are!
Start your research right here on CollegeXpress using our Scholarship Search tool, which allows you to search by criteria to find awards you’re definitely eligible for!