It's scholarship award season, and if you're getting notification letters in the mail letting you know you just received money to help cover tuition costs for next year, congratulations! But if the responses you received would be better shredded for cat litter, don't be disheartened.
Many students believe that scholarships aren't open to students already enrolled in college, but that's actually a misconception. In fact, there are many scholarships available to current college students. If you've been forced to take out loans to pay for college, don't pass up the opportunity to lessen your loan burden by researching and applying for scholarships out there for undergrads.
[Get more advice from U.S. News's paying for college guide.]
Here are three steps you should take:
1. Visit your college's financial aid office: Most colleges and universities have scholarships available to students already enrolled in classes, or they can direct you to the scholarship opportunities they're familiar with for current students.
2. Search online: Use the same online search engines you probably used for your initial scholarship search to research scholarships available to current college students.
[Compare 5 top scholarship search engines.]
I set up a pretend account in one of the better-known search engines. I entered my name, major, college, year in school, GPA, and everything else that was required. After paging through several ads for other E-mail opportunities (and saying "no thanks" to all of it), the search engine returned a whopping 25 scholarship, essay contest, and fellowship opportunities available to me—before I even had a chance to do a formal search.
Here are a few of the more general scholarships revealed through my search that could be useful to any college student:
• Leonard C. Ball and James H. Bell Scholarship Fund: $2,000 scholarships available to current college students with a minimum GPA of 2.5.
• College JumpStart Scholarship: $1,500, $750, and $250 merit-based scholarships available to current college students.
• Foreclosure.com College Scholarship Contest: $5,000 and $2,000 scholarships, available only to undergraduate college students.
• Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship: $1,000 scholarship available to current college students upon essay submission.
• U.S. Bank Internet Scholarship: $1,000 scholarships available to current college students who are attending a college or university participating in the U.S. Bank No Fee Education Loan Program.
• The Big Dig Scholarship: A $3,000 essay-based scholarship available to freshmen or sophomore college students.
Don't ignore the smaller-sized scholarships or scholarships you are unfamiliar with. Every little bit helps, and there are often fewer applicants applying for these, so that could ultimately increase your chances of winning.
3. Apply: In less than four years, you could be making your first loan payment. And believe me, you'll be grateful for any dime you don't have to send away to your student loan company.
Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.