Economista: 5 Strategies for Getting College Scholarships

Yesterday I had the opportunity to appear on WEAA 88.9 FM’s Wealthy Lifestyle Radio with financial coach Deborah Owens. Though the segment was based on a story I’d written about microloans, Owens and I got into an interesting discussion about developing a college aid strategy. Often, many of us go online, subscribe to Fastweb, Princeton Review, and a couple of other sites as a source for scholarships, but it pays to be strategic with how you look for financing. Check out these key tips:

Geo-target funding: Look for scholarships based on your county, city, and state. This helps to weed out prospective applicants, potentially leaving a smaller pool than you’d have with national scholarships. Check with your high school’s career center and guidance counselors (go to more than one) for information about local funding. Also, check out county alumni groups for black Greek organizations that might be offering scholarships. A simple Google search of your county, state, and/or city and the word “scholarship” should yield fruitful results.

Know the right people: Having a great network of professors, mentors, and administrators can help your chances of getting access to scholarships and aid. This fact was driven home for me when I was an undergraduate. Because a professor was a part of my network, I was able to gain access to a particular scholarship that helped me pay for college during a time of great need. While there’s no need to be a kiss-ass, you should work on establishing organic and genuine relationships with your administrators. Become active in organizations or your department of study. Show them the initiative you’ve taken with school projects–as well as outside of school–related to your area of study.

Say no to refund checks: Aaahhh, there’s nothing like a fat refund check to pay for Spring Break in Miami or a mini shopping spree! Unfortunately, taking out a little more than you need can thrust you into greater debt than necessary. Take the time to calculate exactly how much you owe per semester and how much student loan money you’ll really need. Trips, trinkets and splurges should be funded from your own savings.

Pinpoint school scholarships and grants: Aside from applying for national scholarships, most universities and colleges offer their own scholarships and grants. Some of this funding must be applied for while some is automatically awarded. Most schools have a website that lists these oftentimes little known scholarships. Take the time to dig through your college’s website and your department’s webpages to find the money. This funding is often specific to your major, credit hours achieved, or your community impact since attending the school.

Stay on course: Remember–college is a numbers game. You can have more than enough credits to graduate but still not have the right credits in the right places. Talk to upperclassmen and find a highly recommended counselor. From there, get a printout of all the courses you’ll need to fulfill your university requirements (this is usually in the syllabus you get the first day of class), your requirements for the school within the university you are attending (if applicable), and your actual major (yup, pretty confusing). Figure out which classes count for more than one requirement, too.