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Frustrated by FAFSA Delays? Focus on the Scholarship Search

The FAFSA may be delayed, but scholarship applications aren’t! Here's why you should be searching and applying for scholarships more than ever this year.

Delays in processing the 2024–2025 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have caused stress and uncertainty among millions of high school seniors and their families across the country. While the FAFSA has been seemingly modified for the better—it’s now much shorter and more convenient to complete—it hit unexpected delays with the opening date and then the timeline for notifying students about the amount of financial aid they may receive. 

Unfortunately, these delays have forced many students to put their plans and decisions on hold because they don’t know how much federal financial aid they may receive to help pay for college. Many colleges have also pushed back their traditional May 1 decision deadlines—some as late as June 1, 2024.

What can you do during this time of confusion?

Students and parents have no control over the current FAFSA situation, unfortunately—but one area of the financial process they can control is applying for scholarships. Did you know there are some 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships available to students right now, with a total value of more than $7.4 billion? These scholarships are far easier to earn than most students realize and can make a significant impact. Take, for instance, one National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) member who financed her entire college career through scholarships and grants—and she is not the exception.

Focus on the scholarship search

Paying for higher education can seem insurmountable, and no one wants to graduate with the burden of college debt, which is why scholarships can make a big difference. Now, during this time of uncertainty surrounding the FAFSA, you are in an unprecedented situation with an unexpected window to put your energy toward something positive: applying for scholarships. And the only thing better than applying for scholarships is winning them! Here are a few tips on how anyone can secure more scholarships to help pay for college.

Research opportunities and apply often

It’s not too late to begin applying for scholarships if you haven’t already. Many scholarship deadlines are in the spring and summer, and some are open all year long on a rolling basis. You can research national scholarships as well as local community resources, religious organizations, employer programs, and advocacy groups to see what awards they offer.

I know this can seem like an overwhelming task. If you’re unsure how to apply for scholarships, NSHSS offers the Your First Scholarship, a chance for members to earn a $500 award by following a free, online step-by-step tutorial. It walks applicants through all the steps of the scholarship application process, provides tips, and offers a refined "toolbox" you can use to apply for other scholarships since many awards share common elements like personal essays and academic résumés. The FAFSA only applies to a single academic year; students already in college must resubmit their forms each year. So even college sophomores, juniors, and seniors should be researching and applying for scholarships as often as they can.

Related: How to Get and Stay Motivated in the Scholarship Search

Don’t assume you’re not eligible

There are scholarships available for everyone and nearly everything; family income, ethnicity, and academic merit don’t have to limit what you apply for. Countless awards are available for athletics, minorities, STEM/STEAM, community service, music, the arts, and more. There are opportunities through government organizations, small businesses, and large corporations. There are many scholarships available for first-generation college students. There are also offbeat scholarship opportunities: Tall Clubs International offers financial aid to women taller than 5’10” and men taller than 6’2” (and you don’t have to be a member to apply)!

Google is a great tool to find scholarships you’re eligible for. Pair up the word “scholarship” with whatever passion you may have or something unique about you that fits the criteria for a certain scholarship—you can even combine keywords to find even more opportunities. The more scholarships you find and realize you’re eligible for, the greater your chances of earning those dollars. And the smaller, less competitive awards can really add up too, so don’t dismiss them!

Apply with intent

Applying for scholarships is kind of like applying for college or a job: Applicants must carefully read the stated eligibility details, follow all directions, and keep applying for different awards. Make your applications distinctive and reflective of who you are and why you deserve to win. Ask teachers and others to read and critique your entire application, especially if the award you’re applying for requires an essay. Make sure everything is complete and error-free; correct spelling and proper grammar are non-negotiable.

Related: Make Your Scholarship Applications Stand Out in a Crowd

Scholarships are useful for all students who plan to go to college now or in the future. They’re more than just small rewards, and applying for as many as possible can help alleviate the stress of navigating the financial aid process—especially with the uncertainty of the recent FAFSA delays. You’ll find that you’re eligible for more scholarships and grants than you may think, so you should act quickly and consistently when it comes to researching and applying!

You don't have to go anywhere to start (or continue) your scholarship search! Browse our database to find and apply for awards, and check out our monthly scholarship guides to find opportunities with upcoming deadlines.

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About James Lewis

James Lewis is President and Co-founder of National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), a national scholarship organization committed to advancing high-achieving students and educators. He is a resource for information on scholarships, college prep, and paying for higher education.


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