Earn Money for College
Average college tuition and fees range from $9,650 to $33,480 per year, according to the College Board.
Add on room and board, and that increases the average annual bill up to $12,000 more.
Although most scholarships and financial aid will come from the college you attend, you can get a head start on paying for college now. Beginning your search for scholarships and essay and video contests early—even during your sophomore year—is essential so you don’t miss out on excellent money-earning opportunities
Apply for Scholarships Today
Scholarships provide money that you don’t have to pay back. Your sophomore and junior years are perfect times to begin looking and preparing for merit-based scholarships—scholarships based on your academics and talents as well as your extracurricular activities, leadership roles and community service work.
Local and community foundations, professional associations, ethnic organizations, churches, nonprofits and corporations all offer scholarships. There’s a scholarship out there for everyone: for students under 5 feet tall, for students with red hair, for students who volunteer and even for students who write a 250-word essay on what ice cream flavor they’d like to be.
To find local scholarships, Google the terms scholarship foundations and your city or state. For example, a search for scholarship foundation Milwaukee gets results for scholarships offered by organizations from the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation to a Milwaukee home improvement remodeling association.
In addition, ask everyone you know, including teachers and high school guidance counselors, your boss at your part-time job, or leaders of organizations you participate in at school or in the community, if they know about any scholarships or other awards.
“Guidance counselors often have listings of local scholarships and can help you navigate the application process,” says Tracey Mingo, director of financial aid at Georgia Southern University.
Reach out to your classmates, too, says Katie Mott, senior admissions and financial aid counselor at Iowa State University. “Ask upcoming and recent high school graduates from your school what local and/or national scholarships may be available,” she says. “Even better, if your high school has a scholarship or award night, get a copy of the program to know what scholarships should be on your radar.”
If you have an idea what colleges you’re interested in, visit their websites to familiarize yourself with their institution-specific scholarships and their eligibility criteria, says Rachael Russiaky, executive director of student services at Trinity International University (IL). “Take note of deadlines and any required applications that you may need to meet during your senior year,” she says.
You’ll also want to learn the names of the national or regional professional associations related to your preferred fields of study. Ask a professor or admissions counselor or do a web search for the academic major and association scholarships, such as dietetic association scholarships. (Put the terms in quotation marks to have Google match the phrase precisely.)
Many corporations offer scholarships—some to any student and some to employees and their children. Have your parents ask their employers about scholarships, and search the internet for large companies in your city or state to see if they offer any.
Mingo recommends searching for scholarships online at these sites, too: fastweb.com, studentaid.ed.gov and bigfuture.collegeboard.org. New scholarships become available all the time, so search regularly, and take advantage of social media by following scholarship-related Twitter feeds, such as @Scholarshipscom, @USNewsEducation, @PayingForSchool and @ScholAmerica.
“Be careful of scams that ask for your credit card information,” Russiaky says. “There is no reason to pay for a scholarship search.”
Scholarships have deadlines throughout the year—some as early as September—and some have local competitions prior to national competitions. Be sure to confirm deadlines, and mark them on your calendar.
When you do become a high school senior, be sure to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA; fafsa.ed.gov) so you can qualify for financial aid and college-specific scholarship awards based on academic performance and financial need. The FAFSA form is available October 1 each year.
Write for College Money
Essay contests are another way to earn money for college during your sophomore and junior years. Although 1,000 words may seem like a lot to write, the time spent will have been worth it if you win.
To find essay contests, ask your teachers about upcoming opportunities, and search for contests on the same websites you search for scholarships. Additionally, Google high school essay contests to find national and local contests. National competitions often require local or state competitions prior to advancing to the national level, so look for these opportunities early in your sophomore and junior years to meet the deadlines.
Examples of annual essay contests open to high schoolers include:
EGirl Essay Contest
The National Academy of Engineering’s EngineerGirl website offers an essay contest on an engineering topic for girls and boys. Awards range from $100 to $500.
Profile in Courage Essay Contest
Write an essay on a U.S. elected official “who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient.” The winner gets $20,000 and the top 25 essays get cash awards from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.
National High School Essay Contest
The American Foreign Service Association partners with the United States Institute of Peace, Semester at Sea and the National Student Leadership Conference to offer this contest. The winner receives a $2,500 cash prize; an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.; and a full-tuition paid voyage on the Semester at Sea program during college.
Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
Apply in one of 29 categories to earn a scholarship of up to $10,000 and have your artwork exhibited or writing published. Special summer awards provide scholarships for prestigious pre-college programs.
Create a Video Sensation
Other than the format, video contests are like essay contests in terms of content and creative expression. Large corporations and other organizations offer these types of contests. Organizations determine the topic or subject for the contest, then you get to be creative and have fun while trying to earn prize money.
To find video contests, ask your teachers about upcoming opportunities, and search for contests on the same websites you search for scholarships. For a list of several video contests and their deadlines, visit onlinevideocontests.com.
As with essay contests and scholarships, video contest deadlines begin as early as September.
Here are examples of annual video contests and their criteria:
ARTBA Transportation Student Video Contest
This contest, sponsored by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, offers a top prize of $500 to students who create a video examining any aspect of transportation in the United States.
C-SPAN offers a national student documentary contest about issues that affect our communities and nation. The contest is open to students in grades six through 12. Awards range from $100 to $5,000.
Next Steps for Finding College Money Now
During your sophomore year, you can begin beefing up your scholarship résumé. “Take college prep courses, volunteer, be active in the community and join other organizations,” Mingo says.
And if making videos or writing essays for scholarships doesn’t excite you, look for other contests at the city, state and national levels that match your interests. For example, if you enjoy art, search for art contests. If you enjoy science, look for science fairs and competitions, such as the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Good luck!
Examples of scholarships that sophomores or juniors can apply for:
Common Knowledge Scholarship Foundation
Compete with other high school students in online quizzes about general common knowledge items, specific academic subjects, books, websites or movies to win scholarships from $250 to $2,500.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
This program annually recognizes high school students for volunteer community service. State winners receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., and $1,000. National winners receive an additional $5,000.
Scout of the Year
The Veterans of Foreign Wars annually awards three scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts age 15 or older who have received their scouting organization’s top rank.