Families of high school students approach the college applications phase with anxiety. Gaining admission is one thing, but financing a college education is a different matter altogether. While students are joyful over the prospect of spreading their wings and becoming more independent, parents worry about the rising costs of post-secondary education.

Financial Need and Rising Costs

According to the Department of Education, the average annual cost to attend a four-year, public or private college was about $23,000 a year in 2013. These costs are expected to increase by 8.3 percent at public institutions and 4.5 percent for private universities. Clearly, students and their families will need to do more than fill out the Free Application for Student Aid forms, popularly known as FAFSA, to garner scholarships beyond the list provided by the financial aid office.

Many scholarships are merit-based, so it is important to build a high school resume that proves your mettle in the academic, citizenship and extra-curricular departments.

Strategies to Obtain more Scholarship Money

Each year, thousands of scholarships are made available to students entering college or already in college. Your job is to apply to as many as possible, crafting essays targeted to the requirements of the awarding organization.

Start the Search Early

Applying for scholarships should peak the summer after your junior year in high school as you prepare for your senior year and eventual graduation. Many award bodies need a year to process applications. Keep an organized file of everything you turn in, and respond to supplemental requests in a timely manner.

Start Local

During this stage, guidance counselors are your best friend. The guidance counselor at your high school may have some leads on available scholarships. In addition, the admissions counselor at your target universities will have information on scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

Additionally, look at local clubs and organizations in your area that raise scholarship money through regular fundraisers. Scour their websites for scholarship information.

Inquire about Scholarships from Parent’s Employers

Larger corporations may have a scholarship program for dependents of their employees. Even if they do not have one in-house, they may be able to direct you to scholarship-granting non-profit organizations that they support.

Look for Niche Scholarships

If you play any of the popular sports including football, basketball, baseball or golf, you have probably received offers for a full or partial ride to attend that university. Students who are not as gifted in sports should focus on finding niche scholarships for their particular strengths and characteristics. As strange as it sounds, certain scholarships are handed out for the oddest reasons such as a connection to a culture or for having red hair. The more obscure the reasons, the greater your chances of being awarded if you meet the qualifications.

Information on Established Websites

Established websites that provide information and services to college-bound students usually maintain an updated section for finding and applying for scholarships. The College Board website has a research tool for finding grants and scholarships. Sites such as www.scholarship.com focus solely on providing links and tools to access available scholarships.

Managing Your Awards and Scholarships

Staying organized is a useful skill when you are dealing with the financial aspect of your college education. Make sure you understand the terms of each of your awards. Some of them may require re-application every year, in which case, deadlines should be noted.

Track the specific requirements for maintaining each award. These requirements may include maintaining an average or verifiable participation in certain activities on and off campus.

Awards are doled out according to the rules of scholarship-granting bodies. Some awards may be paid directly to the college while others may send you a check. Whatever the case, inform the admissions office and provide them with the necessary paperwork.

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