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Scholarship Basics -- What You Should Know About Free Money For College

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To some students and parents, the word "scholarship" is just another one of those confusing college terms: student loans, FAFSA, tuition and fees, EFC, grants, and work study. Little do they realize that knowing more about the scholarship process could save them thousands of dollars when trying to cover the cost of their education.

What are scholarships?
Scholarships come in a variety of forms, but are generally considered to be "free money" for college. Unlike loans, scholarships do not have to be repaid to the scholarship provider. Some scholarships are awarded directly to the student in the form of a check, while other scholarships are written out to the student's college or university. Several different types of providers issue scholarships: clubs and organizations, charitable foundations, businesses, schools, universities, government agencies, and others.

Who can get scholarships?
It is a common misconception that scholarships are only for straight-A students. In reality, there are all types of scholarships for all types of students, including those with less than perfect academic records. Some scholarships are for athletes; others are for students planning to study in particular fields; and others for community service. Some scholarship providers just want to reward students for living in a certain city or state! Students also mistakenly believe that only college-bound high school seniors can apply for awards. Scholarships are available for all levels of college study, from freshman undergrads to graduate and Ph.D. students.

How do students find scholarships?
Finding scholarships can be a very time-consuming process. We have access to hundreds of scholarships. Students can also ask their high school guidance counselors about any local or state awards that they qualify for. Students should contact the financial aid office at the college or university they plan to attend to learn if they qualify for any awards provided by the school.

When should students look for scholarships?
Scholarship application deadlines vary greatly. There are thousands of scholarship programs with spring and summer deadlines, and thousands more with fall and winter deadlines. The key is to never stop searching for new scholarship leads, even after beginning the freshman year in college. A good rule of thumb is to continue searching for scholarships for the duration of the college career.

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