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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Damian Rangel

Damian Rangel

September 2021 Mini Scholarship Winner, High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me tackle college expenses, which will allow me to put more of my time and effort into my studies without the need of worrying as much about finances.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Bell College Consulting

The college lists on CollegeXpress are indispensable for sussing out creative additions to a student’s list, and the college-specific pages provide terrific commentary and suggestions for related schools. CollegeXpress is among the most trusted sources I use for information for my students.

Heaven Johnson

Heaven Johnson

Back to School Scholarship Winner, High School Class of 2023

I’d like to thank everyone on the CollegeXpress team for their generosity. Not only have I been awarded this scholarship, but CollegeXpress makes it easier to apply and gives amazing tips for schools and scholarships. I am extremely grateful as this will help with my schooling and allow me to be able to enter into the field I’ve been dreaming of all my life. 

Keaun Brown

Keaun Brown

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2020

As I transition to furthering my education, I can say with certainty that it simply wouldn’t be possible without the help of generous organizations such as CollegeXpress. Those who initially founded CX had no idea their platform would give a plethora of information to a first-generation homeless kid native to the ghettos of over half a dozen states. Everyone at CX and Carnegie Dartlet gave me a chance at a future when the statistics said I had none. And for that, I thank them.

Wendy Thompson

Wendy Thompson

Owner, Westport Educational Consulting

I just discovered your site and LOVE it—fun, interesting, full of incredible information you can’t find anywhere else, and a godsend for those of us in the college counseling business. I am a fan!

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