Fastweb, Scholarships.com, Super College: Scholarship Tips From Pros in the Know
When trying to find free money for college in the form of scholarships, you might be wondering where to start. My College Guide knows you have questions so we picked the best of the best and asked scholarship pros from scholarship search sites you know and love your scholarship questions — and concerns!
We interviewed Mark Kantrowitz, the Publisher of Fastweb and FinAid – he’s frequently referred to as “the financial aid guy’s financial aid guy” and has even testified before Congress about financial aid, scholarships, and student loans!
If a scholarship website wants me to pay money to access their database, that means they have really awesome scholarships and I should throw down the cash, right?
Free scholarship matching services like Fastweb.com provide more accurate and up-to-date information than paid services. The Fastweb database is updated daily and automatically notifies students of new awards that match their personal background profile. The success of free web sites like Fastweb depend on continually finding new scholarships that bring students back to their sites. Most of the paid scholarship sites are licensing one of a handful of databases that are updated infrequently. Few conduct their own research to identify new awards. There is a lot of overlap among scholarship databases. You won’t get better or more information by paying for it. Students should search at least two of the free scholarship databases – Fastweb and one other – to reassure themselves that they are finding all the awards for which they are qualified.
There is no need to pay money to find scholarships. Ever. In fact, we don’t even list a scholarship if they charge an application fee because we believe both searching for and applying for scholarships should be free.
I need scholarships to help pay my way through college but I am not a straight A student and I didn’t do so great on the SAT test – I don’t even play any sports! Is there a scholarship out there for me or am I stuck?
The raw odds of winning a scholarship for a 4-year college are about 1 in 10. But every scholarship provider is looking for the students who are best at something. It may not be academics or athletics, but you need to excel in some area. It could be art, or writing, or community service, or leadership, or a hobby or some other talent. You should also submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is used to apply for federal and state grants, loans and work-study as well as money from most colleges.
There are plenty of scholarships available that are merit-based, some based on your major, organizations or club membership by you or a parent, ethnic background, gender, parent’s employer. and the list goes on and on. If you get straight A’s, or are among the elite athletes who get recruited by colleges to play for their sports team, etc., everybody knows there are scholarships out there for you. What many don’t know, however, is that there are millions of scholarship awards that have nothing to do with either of the above. That’s where the free scholarship search comes in. Don’t know what talent or semi-unique characteristic you possess that might qualify you for a scholarship? We’ve been building a database of scholarships for students like you for the last eleven years! You create a profile and we’ll tell you what scholarships are out there for you.
There are unusual scholarships such as for speaking Klingon (the fictional language of Star Trek), being skilled at using duct tape or being tall. If you fit the criteria for these scholarships, by all means, apply! Somebody has to win these scholarships, and you need to apply to be in the running. What I think these unusual scholarships underscore is the fact that there are scholarships for every background, talent and achievement. If there are scholarships for being skilled at using duct tape, then you know that there are scholarships for more ordinary backgrounds as well.
I’m not so great at writing essays. Should I even bother looking for scholarships?
Practice makes perfect. After you’ve applied for a few scholarships, you’ll find that you can start reusing and refining your previous essays. If you have difficulty writing essays, try talking about a subject that interests you into a tape recorder and transcribe the recording. This will be the start of a good essay. The more interesting a subject is to you, the more interesting your essay will be to others. Most people talk about 200 words per minute and can write only 25-50 words per minute. So writing often interferes with the flow of thought. Speaking, on the other hand, gets the ideas out more efficiently. You can revise the structure and grammar of the essay after you’ve transcribed your thoughts from the tape recording.
Sure you should. While there are quite a few scholarships that will require an essay, not all do. You can easily, upon searching for scholarships on our site, for example, eliminate those requiring an essay or else get some editorial assistance from friends or family so that you can compete for those scholarships that require an essay or some sort of writing sample. Also, you may be able to use a single essay several times, so see if you can get some guidance (just make sure YOU are the one actually WRITING the essay) and/or editorial help writing just one or two essays.
Not every scholarship requires an essay. So even if writing isn’t your forte, you should still look for scholarships. Awards may be based on a speech given, artwork, a musical performance, a science project, and more.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give a student regarding the scholarship hunt?
Students should apply to as many scholarships as possible, but only for scholarships for which they are eligible. Winning a scholarship is a bit of a numbers game, since there are many qualified students competing for the same scholarships. Your odds of winning a scholarship increases as you apply to more scholarships. You may not win the first scholarship you apply for, but if you persevere, you might win the sixth or the tenth. Most students who win a gazillion dollars in scholarships get rejected by more scholarships than they win.
Obviously, don’t pay. Use Scholarships.com. Search early and often. Also, follow instructions to the letter. Many applications will get tossed because they either didn’t bother to read or didn’t comply with the official rules of a scholarship. Don’t be that person and you’ll survive the first cut automatically. Also, don’t wait until the last minute. Try to get yours in as far ahead of the deadline as possible. And if you happen to be searching at a time with lots of deadlines approaching, you may want to apply for them in order of closest deadline first to ensure you give yourself sufficient time to give your application your best effort.
Exhaust every resource! Don’t rely on the Internet to neatly deliver every scholarship that you should apply for. It takes a little digging, but by using not only the Internet but books, people and organizations to find scholarships, you’ll find those that best fit you.
When should a college bound student start thinking about looking for scholarships?
Most families start worrying about how to pay for college during the spring of the senior year in high school. By then about half of the deadlines have already passed. Moreover, there are many awards you can win in younger grades and you can continue winning scholarships even after you’ve enrolled in college. You can even win scholarships in elementary school, such as spelling and geography bees, scholarships for mibsters (children who play with marbles), art, writing, and community service.
Don’t wait until you are a senior in high school. Freshman year in high school isn’t too early to start. You may qualify for a few right away and you can gain a lot of insight as to what is expected of you by searching and seeing what is available to you in the coming years. In fact, on the search results page of our free scholarship search, we even offer the ability to select “Your School Year of Financial Need” so that students can see what would be available to them in any given year in college, not just the one they are currently in or the one they are heading into.
One of the biggest misconceptions about scholarships is that the only time that you can apply for them is when you are a senior in high school. The truth is that there are scholarships for students as young as the seventh grade, and there are awards for students already in college and in graduate school and adult students. You are never too young or too old to apply for a scholarship!
Is there anything a student should keep in mind when starting their scholarship search?
When searching any scholarship database, be sure to answer all of the optional questions in addition to the required questions. Students who answer all of the optional questions will match about twice as many scholarships, on average, as students who answer only the required questions.
It’s work. We offer a tool that eliminates a very substantial part of that work, by showing the student a more manageable list of 50 – 150 scholarships out of the millions out there. Many philanthropic organizations offering scholarships like to see civic-mindedness in a candidate and the earlier you begin, the better chance you have of finding time for volunteering somewhere, for example. A few weekends here and there over your high school career will add up. If you are strapped for funds, find scholarships and go to state school or even begin your postsecondary education at a community college to reduce the cost and find as much free money as possible by applying to 30 or 40 scholarships if you can find the time.
So, do you have any final thoughts to share with our college bound readers?
Beware of scholarship scams. If you have to pay money to get money, it’s probably a scam. Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or to apply for scholarships.
There may not be many “silver bullet” scholarships, the kind that pay for your entire education, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to go out and get some of the free money that’s out there. Search early and often and apply to as many scholarships as you can if you don’t want to have a heap of debt when you graduate. Like many things, you get out of searching for scholarships what you put in, for the most part. Start early and take the initiative.