School’s almost out for summer, and at this point, college may feel quite a long way off; after all, you won’t have to make a decision for almost a year! Maybe you’ve already given yourself a jump start by visiting a few colleges or drafting your essay. But fall can be overwhelming for seniors, as you juggle college admissions application and financial aid applications on top of your high school academics and activities and any family, community, and work obligations.
Whatever your plans are for the summer, whether it’s a job, time with friends, or a fun vacation, do yourself a favor and carve out some time to start thinking about how to pay for college. According to the 2019 Princeton Review College Hopes and Worries Survey, the top concern for college applicants and their families is paying for college and student loan debt.
While you can’t start the financial aid application process until the FAFSA is available in October, you can start checking out your scholarship options right now. Having a proactive view of scholarships will help ease some of the pressure of the cost of college and having a proactive plan for your scholarship research and applications now will help ease some of the pressure on your time in the fall. There are thousands of scholarships available and about $3.3 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) in scholarship money is awarded each year through various private sources. For example, I lead the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholars program, the largest scholarship provider for APIA students; we offer three scholarship programs and have distributed over $100 million dollars in scholarships supporting more than 6,000 students in accessing higher education.
In addition to financial aid from the federal and state governments and institutional aid, outside scholarships can offer a chance to help level the playing field when it comes to paying for college. All different types of scholarships are available, including academic, athletic, community service, faith-based, and countless others at local, state, regional, and national levels. Some scholarships are identity-based. There are student-specific scholarships for students who belong to racial or ethnic minority groups or who have served in the military or who are the first in their family to attend college.
Think about your identity, interests and what makes you unique as a college applicant, and use each as a starting point to find organizations, businesses, and programs with scholarship funding that aligns with your personal attributes. Perhaps you’re interested in quirky hobbies, excel in a specific class in school, or you’re really passionate about a particular cause — you can definitely find scholarships for you.
There are many resources online that offer free access to scholarship research, such as FastWeb and Scholarships.com, and these can be fantastic resources for finding specific scholarships. You can also schedule a meeting with a guidance counselor before school lets out for the summer (if you wait until after graduating seniors leave, you may find the counselors have more time to meet). They may be aware of local, state, and regional scholarships or other local resources that you can use in your search.
When you find scholarships that are a good fit for you, keep track of them. Make note of application requirements and deadlines and make a timeline so that you won’t get overwhelmed by the time fall rolls around. Some scholarship applications may take hours to fill out and it may feel like getting a job and working for those same hours is a better bet. I like to remind students that spending four hours on a scholarship application that is worth $5,000 equates to making $1,250 an hour — much more than a student makes working all summer.
Keep in mind that many scholarships, like those given by APIA Scholars, require a completed FAFSA, so make that a priority in the fall. You also need to be aware of reporting requirements; some scholarships are sent directly to your college, while others will be sent to you. Some scholarships may only be used for direct school costs, like tuition and room and board fees, while others are designed to cover the cost of books or other expenses associated with college.
Don’t let all of your hard work and focus during high school and application season go unrewarded by missing out on scholarships. However you’re spending your time this summer, be sure to squeeze in some time to help pay for your education!
Noel Harmon is president and executive director of Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholars, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing college scholarships for Asian Pacific Islander Americans.