Even after you are through with the grueling college applications, you have another mountain to scale: financing your college education. It is no secret that college education is extremely expensive, so much so that most families can't afford it without some form of financial aid, such as student loans or scholarships. To make the search for scholarships easier, start by gathering information about different kinds of scholarships, eligibility criteria, amount of financial aid offered and attached conditions and clauses. When it comes to scholarships, the more you know, the better.  

What are the different forms of scholarships?

The good news is that there are tons of scholarships out there, the bad news is that looking for them can be an uphill task. Having said as much, we will try our best to make this journey easier for you. To begin with, scholarships can be broadly categorized as follows : federal scholarships provided by the state or federal government; scholarships provided by college; third-party scholarships; and skill-specific scholarships like athletic scholarships, creative scholarships, dance scholarships etc. All of these scholarships come with their specific perks and riders. Let's quickly go through them.  

Federal Student Aid – Get the government to pay for your education!

Through the Federal Student Aid program, the US Department of Education provides grants, loans and work-study incentives to more than 14 million students every year (1). Even if you are not eligible for a federal grant like the Pell Grant ( an unconditional form of aid which doesn't have to be re-paid), you can still get low interest loans like Perkins Loans, Stafford Loans etc. or enjoy the benefits of the Federal Work-Study awards. Most of these aids are need-based i.e. they are provided to low income families. Alternatively, children and spouses of army veterans are also eligible for federal aid. You can apply for federal aid by filling the FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  

Earn a merit-based scholarship provided by your college

If your family's income isn't low enough to make the cut for federal aid, you can hope to get a merit-based scholarship provided by the college itself. These scholarships are provided to students who could prove to be potential assets for the college due to their stellar academic record or excellence in extracurricular activities like art, music, dance, writing. The financial aid is available in the form of tuition fee reduction, grants and scholarships. Besides merit-based grants, the financial aid division of most colleges also offer certain forms of need-based scholarships. It would be best to contact your college to get more information about these scholarships. In most cases, you will need to to fill the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Financial Aid Profile.  

Athletic Scholarships – Play your way to college!

An athletic scholarship is meant for students who have been regularly involved with sports at the high school level. The scholarships are offered by colleges and third party organizations and they can cover a part or whole of the college fee. At times, they even provide a stipend, as being an active sportsperson in college is almost like having a full-time job. It might sound like a lucrative offer but finding a sizable sports scholarship is anything but easy. Firstly, the competition is pretty stiff and full scholarships are offered in a very few sports like basketball, football and volleyball. Additionally, the average amount of financial aid is not sufficient to cover the education expenses in most cases.  

Look for third-party scholarships

Even if the above options don't work for you, it's not the end of the world. In fact, the actual search begins now. Look for scholarships provided by third-party organizations like the Gates Foundation, Intel Science Talent Research, Rotary Clubs etc. While some of these might be awarded on the basis of academic excellence, others have more unorthodox criteria like essay scholarships, language proficiency scholarships etc. The problem with them is that they can be hard to find. Begin by browsing through websites which specialize in scholarships. Next, contact your school guidance counselor. Every school has a guidance counselor who has in-depth knowledge about different kinds of scholarships. Not only that, a guidance counselor will study your case individually and recommend scholarships based on your academic and extracurricular achievements. Similarly, there are freelance academic counselors as well who perform the same functions. Remember, the crucial thing is to put yourself out there. Don't be afraid of rejection or disappointment and go all out. Follow the most bizarre of leads and you might be pleasantly surprised!