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Key Tips for Accessing Scholarships for Higher Education

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Scholarships-financial aid-fafsa-nspa

The decision to attend higher education can be life-changing — and expensive. Some research and planning early on can help students (and their families) more easily afford college.

Sarah Battersby

Communications Consultant, National Scholarship Providers Association

Scholarships are an important part of any college journey, and a few key steps can help students access this source of higher education funding.


First, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), if eligible. The application opens in October each year and it should be completed as soon as possible. Colleges use this to calculate their financial aid awards (scholarship providers often use it, too). The FAFSA uses information from two years ago, so if there have been big changes in employment or income for anyone in the family, a good next step is speaking to financial aid staff to make sure those are updated.

Look for scholarships

Second, look for scholarships. The best place to start will be on their college’s financial aid website and department(s) where they’re hoping to study. Next, search for private scholarships; these can be national, statewide, and local.

Check out sites like College Board and Fastweb, but also be sure to speak with guidance counselors and look at local organizations like foundations, nonprofits, civic groups, and employers. Often, the narrower the criteria, the higher chance students may have of receiving an award as the scholarship will receive fewer applications.

Students should apply for all scholarships where they meet the eligibility criteria. To get started, make a list of accomplishments, extracurriculars (including awards, clubs, sports, work, and (for some scholarships) even child and elder care), passions, interests, and college goals. This information can be used over and over when filling out applications. Many scholarships might use similar essay prompts or short answer questions.

Make sure to keep track of deadlines, spell-check essays, and have at least one trusted non-family member in mind that can write a recommendation letter. 

Follow up

Finally, scholarship recipients shouldn’t forget to thank their donor and make sure they are aware of any requirements, like providing student information, maintaining a certain GPA, or completing a report every semester. Students can also share with their scholarship provider how the award helped them! 

For more information on finding and applying for scholarships, head to this helpful guide for scholarship seekers created by the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA).

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