How to Pay for College Without Paying for College

College is expensive, and there's no way around it. But there's an easy way to manage the ever-rising cost without taking out hefty loans: scholarships

Fact: college is expensive. There are times when we look at past decades and are glad that we live in the present. But one thing we wish was still around is the low cost of higher education. My mother says her tuition was about $500 a semester when she went to college! Granted, inflation makes that a little higher, but the price was affordable. Imagine how many people graduate with student debt today compared to only a few decades ago. So what are some of the ways you can mitigate the high cost of college in the present? You could take out hefty loans or rely on your parents, but there is a better route to help pay for your education: apply for scholarships. It’s that easy. Are you guaranteed to get every scholarship you apply for? No. Nothing is guaranteed except death and taxes, according to Benjamin Franklin. But will you get a scholarship if you don’t apply for it? Absolutely not. The point is—apply, apply, apply!

Finding scholarships

Many scholarship opportunities go to waste because you don’t know about them. How do you find out about scholarships? You can ask your guidance counselor, sign up for scholarship emails, or even do a simple Google search. Don’t be surprised if you happen to find scholarships relating to potatoes or how to survive the zombie apocalypse. The sites I mainly use for scholarships are Unigo, Niche, and CollegeXpress. Each allows you to subscribe to emails for scholarship opportunities. What I like about CollegeXpress is that they send me multiple scholarship opportunities to apply for at a time. Some don’t apply to me, but I usually end up exploring a few options. Some scholarship opportunities can even be as easy as signing up for a mailing list! Many others ask you to write short essays for a prompt and don’t take very long to complete. And guess what: you don’t need to be a senior to apply for scholarships. There are tons of awards out there for middle school, high school, college, transfer, graduate, non-traditional, and many other types of students. Just make sure you’re eligible for an award before you take the time to apply! 

Related: Why the Scholarship Search Matters, Plus Quick Tips and Tricks

Scholarship essays

When writing an essay for a scholarship, it’s important to be honest and follow the guidelines for the application. If the maximum word count is 250, don’t write more. A concise and intelligent essay is better than a long and repetitive one. Often the idea that first vividly comes to your mind is the best topic for you to write about. A big change from the essays you write for teachers and professors, it’s okay—and even expected—to write in the first person. After all, you’re writing about yourself.

If you’re having trouble writing a scholarship essay, you should focus on the meat (the body) of your essay. What do you really want to say? Putting your thoughts into bullet points to start out can be helpful. Don’t worry about the introduction and conclusion. They can come afterward. Having good introductions and conclusions isn’t everything—they might make your essay seem more eloquent, but if you’re really struggling, they don’t have to be included. It’s also imperative that your essay contains no spelling or grammar mistakes. Having simple mistakes won’t set you apart—they’ll make your essay seem rushed and half-attempted. So double-check your essay before you hit submit.

Another thing to remember is that if a scholarship asks you to write about “an experience that changed how you see the world” or “a life-changing experience,” don’t simply write about a mission trip or volunteer day. Your essay will seem bland and unoriginal. Instead, try to write about a unique childhood experience or use figurative devices to explore a deeper part of your mission trip. It’s important to set yourself apart from others so those who will read your essay find it memorable.

Related: Secrets to Writing an Amazing Scholarship Essay

I cannot stress enough how important it is to apply! Not believing you’ll get a scholarship isn’t a good reason to not apply. If you don’t apply, you’ll never get free money for college. Who doesn’t want free money for college? What are you waiting for? Search and apply!

Start your college journey off right by having money to pay for it! Use our Scholarship Search tool to find and win awards.

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About Grayson Yount

I love discovering new words and ways to describe the things I see every day.


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Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.



High School Class of 2019

My favorite feature of CollegeXpress is the scholarship search. As someone going out of state for college, I needed all the financial help I could get, and CollegeXpress helped me easily find scholarships I could apply for to help fund my education.

Daniel Ogunlokun

Daniel Ogunlokun

High School Class of 2022

When I started looking at colleges in the beginning of my senior year, I was conflicted about which ones I wanted to attend based on safety, tuition costs, location, academic rigor, and prestige. Searching the internet and getting more questions than answers, I came across CollegeXpress, which made all the steps I had taken look like a minor issue. Everything was summarized and detailed, and I couldn't be more thankful and appreciative.

Leah Maciel

Leah Maciel

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me with all aspects of applying for college. The website is extremely easy to navigate and gives access to so many resources. I was able to research all of the colleges I was interested in, find out any information I wished to know about, and keep them organized in a list. I've also been able to research scholarships and save them as resources for later. I've used many websites in my college and scholarship search, and CollegeXpress has by far been my favorite one to use.

Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

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