Though many financial aid deadlines have passed by late April, college students who need to line up cash to pay for their fall semester after that still have time to apply for thousands of dollars worth of scholarships and cheap loans.
U.S. News has identified more than two dozen private scholarship contests awarding anywhere from $500 to $10,000 each with deadlines of April 30 or later. Some of them are easier and more fun than the standard essays and forms. Students who get artistic with spent printer ink cartridges or duct tape, for example, can apply for scholarships of at least $2,500. The American Fire Sprinkler Association awards up to $2,000 to randomly chosen students who take an open book, multiple-choice test online about fire safety.
The federal government will accept applications for need-based Pell Grants (of up to $5,550 for 2010-11) throughout the academic year. That means the students who haven't filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid for last fall still have a few weeks to apply retroactively for federal aid for the 2009-2010 academic year. Those who fill out FAFSAs—no matter how rich or poor—can also take out low-cost student loans. Freshmen can borrow up to $5,500, and upperclassmen can borrow up to $12,500, through the federal Stafford program.
While the vast majority of colleges have already committed their school scholarships, many (although, not all) of the most generous colleges say they award school scholarships to admitted students who apply late.
"We meet full need without loans. That is pretty much regardless of when the student applies," says David Mohning, executive director of student financial aid for Vanderbilt University. Of course, he adds, "Very few [colleges] can say that."
While there's no doubt that procrastinators miss out on millions of dollars worth of state, private and school scholarships, there is one surprising silver lining: So many students apply on time that there's sometimes less competition for the later scholarships. Lieutenant Colonel Terry Owens, who runs a foundation with late spring deadlines for three $1,000 scholarships, says she received only about 40 applications last year. Chris Long, president of Cappex, which hands out several $1,000 scholarships at the end of each month, said the July and August competitions have half the competition of the March contests. "It definitely makes sense to actively look for scholarships in the summer," he says.
That doesn't mean students should relax, however, says Thelma Mason, director of financial aid for the City College of New York. It's better to file a FAFSA and other aid applications as soon as possible, she says. Filing in January is ideal, but even filing in the late spring or summer is better than waiting until a few days before a semester starts. The worst procrastinators not only get less money oftentimes, but usually must endure long lines and delays.
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