How to Find and Apply for University Scholarships

By CSU Global - October 16th, 2019

Congratulations — you were accepted to a degree program! Whether it’s an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s, you’re embarking on a journey to higher lifetime earnings, deepened expertise, and so much more.

Choosing to further your education will help you stand out in today’s competitive marketplace — according to the APLU, 99% of jobs created post-Recession went to “individuals with at least some postsecondary education.” Translation? It’s becoming more and more important — necessary, even — to earn a degree after high school. 

While the benefits of earning a degree are clear, there’s one thing that’s a bit more obscure: how to pay for it without going deep into debt. Nationwide, the average borrower carries $37,172 in student debt — a burden that can create serious obstacles to achieving major milestones, like marriage, homeownership, and parenthood. Average tuition prices have skyrocketed 275% since 2000, significantly increasing the likelihood that the average university student take on some form of debt.  

The ROI of earning a degree often makes it worth it, though (in CSU Global’s case, for every $1 invested in earning a degree, students see $4 in earnings). And with billions of dollars available to students through grants, federal aid, and scholarships, a degree may be well within your financial reach — without needing to borrow more than you deem necessary. 

Where to Find Scholarships 

First, let’s talk terminology.

  • A loan is borrowed money meant to be repaid, typically with interest, over time. Student debt consists of loans, either from the federal government or financial institutions.
  • A grant is a financial award given to a student by an institution, the federal government, or another entity, and no repayment is expected. 
  • A scholarship is an award given to students to help pay for degrees, and, like grants, no repayment is expected. Scholarship donors can be institutions, individuals, families, funds, organizations, and more. Criteria for earning scholarships and grants vary case by case. 

One of the most important, foundational things you can do as you search for scholarship and grant money is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application will ask you a series of questions about your earnings, taxes, military status, and so on, in order to offer you a financial aid package that includes loans and grants, where possible or applicable. 

Next, check with your institution. Your university’s financial aid office will assist you in finding scholarship opportunities that are available specifically to students who attend your university — unlike other, publicly available scholarships, for which any student can apply. 

Also be sure to check out local, regional, or national volunteer organizations for scholarships. If you volunteer or are connected to community organizations, you may find opportunities to apply to some there, especially if your degree program aligns with the organization’s goals, values, or mission. 

Then, dig into opportunities available to you online. There are dozens of databases, a few of which are listed below, to help you find and apply for scholarships:

Once you find scholarships that fit your specific situation or needs, it’s time to start applying! Scholarships generally have different criteria — GPA, financial situation, affiliation with an organization or protected class, etc. — and instructions for applying will be clearly defined. FAFSA, on the other hand, only requires that you fill out the form to “apply” — it’s a streamlined application for federal student aid and can also provide access to work-study, grants, and needs-based scholarships

Debt is a reality for many of today’s students, but opportunities to earn scholarships and defray the cost of tuition abound. By spending some time to research your options, find scholarships that fit your needs, and apply, you may find your tuition costs are more within reach than you’d previously imagined.

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