Tame Tuition Bills: 7 Tips for Winning College Money

By Marianne Ragins, CSP™

With tuition costs continuing to outpace inflation, especially when additional fees for student activities, labs, and building maintenance are included in the total bill, many families (including yours) may be rethinking their strategy to pay for college. For a family with more than one kid in college, additional options to pay become even more critical. This is particularly true if you want to save for retirement at the same time. One approach has students considering community colleges or postponing college plans. Others look at best value college options rather than a favorite first choice college or university. Some get ready to start amassing parent and student loans. Instead of changing plans drastically or creating staggering loan balances, students and parents can use these seven tips to win college money and find additional avenues to shrink their total college bills.

  1. Start now – Many of the largest scholarship and award programs have deadlines in the fall or winter. You shouldn’t wait until you actually get accepted to the college or university of your dreams to apply for scholarships or to look for college money and awards. In fact, you don’t even have to wait until senior year. You can win money for college as early as age 6. My daughter won a small local scholarship at age 7.
  2. Don’t ignore smaller scholarships, prizes, and awards – Explore college money treasures in your backyard. Even though local and regionally based scholarships and awards may be for smaller amounts, they can add up, and ultimately wipe out a textbook bill or more.  Too, some of these scholarships may be easier to win since the number of applicants is often fewer.
  3. Get involved – One of the best ways to stand out among a crowd of other scholarship applicants is through participation in activities beyond the classroom. Strive to be well-rounded and participate in several meaningful activities. A leadership role in some of the activities is also important.
  4. Community service is essential – Not only can some scholarships and awards be won on the basis of community service alone,  nearly all scholarship programs want to see students who get involved in activities that benefit others. They also love students who can recognize a school or community issue and successfully come up with a way to solve it.
  5. Don’t consider limits – Applying for two or three of the largest scholarships is not enough. The scholarship application cycle can be long. If you apply for a few large scholarships and wait to see if you win them before applying for others, you can miss out on other great college money opportunities. If you prepare an application package now that includes two engaging essays and a student résumé, you should be well-prepared to apply for every legitimate scholarship you find. Selective essay recycling and reorganization techniques can help make the scholarship application process much easier.
  6. Improve and refine essays – Essays should reflect more than the information included in a student résumé or transcript. Essays should highlight and explain extracurricular activities and reveal how specific activities may have impacted you or positively affected someone else.  
  7. Scoop up easy money – Although they don’t offer scholarships, programs such as upromise.com can also help with the tuition bill. These are free programs that allow individuals to register credit and frequent shopper cards to earn rebates into a college savings account. If your family enjoys online shopping at major retailers, you have a chance to earn up to 10% of your total purchases to help with college bills.

About the Author

Marianne Ragins is the publisher of ScholarshipWorkshop.com, the author of Winning Scholarships for College and College Survival & Success Skills 101, and a $400,000 scholarship winner. Organizations in Northern Virginia frequently sponsor The Scholarship Workshop and the Essay Writing Boot Camp for Scholarships and College led by Marianne. To be notified when registration opens for local presentations, visit ScholarshipWorkshop.com/Newsletter or text SCHOLARSHIP INFO to 22828.

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