Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scholarships and Financial Aid

A lot of you still in high school may be absolutely dreading this time of year, especially as a forward-thinking junior or senior, because it is scholarship season. That means a lot of meeting with your guidance counselors,  asking your favorite teachers for letters of recommendation, essay-writing, form-filling, non-procrastinating and deadline-remembering; and don't think for a moment that getting to college ends this process.

If you have really generous family or have stumbled upon a glorious, four-year scholarship, I commend you on your good fortune, but warn you not to just shill it away. And if you are not so fortunate, then I must say I am in the same boat as you.

The main forms of paying off college are scholarships and grants, work study, working, and loans.

In my case, the scholarships I was awarded senior year were able to be held for a year; this really helped ease some tensions about my plans to take a year off between high school and college. (I highly suggest this option if possible, so check if the scholarships you are looking at have this option available). While this definitely helped for my freshman year, I must now look to next fall, and my financial possibilities.

Over the long weekend I decided to take advantage of my free-time and start looking for scholarships to apply for. The first step was going to the local library, and spending some quality time in the stacks. I came across the book, Peterson's Scholarships, Grants, & Prizes 2009 (there's a 2011 copy out now, too). Within this book I was able to look for scholarships for my specific areas of interest, as well as some general scholarships for the average broke college student. You can also go to the Peterson's website for more goodies.

I also went back to my email and dug up the password to my and FastWeb accounts. When you sign up, you create a profile that will help limit what sort of scholarships are brought to your attention. It's a great way to find scholarships and other prizes, but it is still ultimately up to you to follow through and finish everything you need to apply with...on time.

Remember that most colleges have their own financial aid opportunities as well. Western Washington University helps students apply for campus-run scholarships automatically. You don't even have to worry, you just receive a letter saying you were awarded such and such scholarships and are asked to accept or decline the awards. It's a very nice thing they do over here. Also, work study positions are available to students that qualify, and they are very understanding: I applied and was awarded work-study money, only to find that my first quarter was squared away without it. So, I emailed them and was able to let that opportunity be passed on, but still have my name on the list for future quarters.

Of course, I am also taking summer quarter off, so I am going to be working a lot to save up more money. This was definitely a good thing, as I was able to save money last summer (as well as find a new career path, but that's another story). If you don't have a job at the moment, start applying to new places, or contacting your old employers to see if they'd have you back--being of course that the reason you aren't currently working for them is that you were away to college, and not fired or let go. (Hint: If you're in good standing, use the fact that you're already trained to try and win your ex-employer over).

And then, there is of course the final option: selling your soul to a bank for a loan. Just because I am writing to a broad audience, I will go ahead and say that if needed, taking out a student loan is certainly a viable and successful option for paying for long as you remember that one day you will have to pay it off (more than likely years from now). Personally, it is one of my goals to go through college without having to take out a loan, as my feelings coincide with those of J Cole:

"Hell nah, got a degree, but what that cost you?
You make a good salary just to pay Sallie Mae"
--J Cole / "Blow Up" / Friday Night Lights (mixtape)
[Great music, by the way, if free hip-hop mixtapes are one of your cups of tea]

Now then, back to more writing, calendar-checking, asking for letters of recommendation, and money-searching for next year. Good luck in your search as well!

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