Book Lovers, Check Out These College Scholarships

Reading skills are key to ensuring success in your higher education--and can help you pay for it.

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From just about the moment I could understand words, I've been the kind of person who reads everything I can get my hands on: fiction, nonfiction, magazines, newspapers, brochures, the backs of cereal boxes and shampoo bottles, etc. It's impossible to imagine life without reading—and even more impossible to imagine my education without it.

March is a great month for readers. March 1 is the UNESCO-declared World Book Day, and March 2 is the 14th annual Read Across America Day. It's also a great time to look at the importance of reading to your future. It's crucial not only to finding college scholarships, but to preparing for college and ensuring success throughout your educational journey.

[Learn more about paying for college.]

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, "[having] advanced literacy skills across content areas is the best available predictor of students' ability to succeed in introductory college courses." In addition, reading matters later in life: As of 2007, studies showed that adults with proficient levels of literacy were five times more likely to earn more than $100,000 per year than those with below-basic levels—and three times more likely than basic readers to hold professional or management jobs.

Reading skills can also pay off in scholarship dollars. The National Merit Scholarship Program is one of the largest in the country, offering nearly 10,000 scholarships to high school students nationwide. To qualify, you'll need to take the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test no later than your junior year of high school. And reading is crucial to this test—two of the three test sections involve reading comprehension and essay writing. The better you are at critical reading, the better your chances at taking home scholarship funds in this prestigious competition.

[Read about how reading isn't dead for college students.]

Reading in college is just as important, if not more so. In fact, textbook reading is so important to your college success that schools from New York's Skidmore College to California's Cuesta College offer tutorials such as this one on how to get the most out of reading your textbooks.

Because textbooks can get expensive, there's help on that front as well, courtesy of a best-selling author. James Patterson, author of the Alex Cross thriller series, started a program in 2010 called College Book Bucks; students simply have to enter an essay discussing the impact of their favorite book on their lives. Ten first-place winners receive $1,000 toward their college textbooks; 20 second-place winners get $500, and 100 third-place winners receive $250, courtesy of Patterson. The contest winners for this year were just announced, but be sure to check in next fall for your chance to enter.

[See how to get cheap textbooks for next semester.]

If you want to go beyond just scholarship essays and textbook reading, there are plenty of careers available for book lovers. For aspiring writers, check out our post from this fall outlining eight great scholarship opportunities (including the Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest, which is taking submissions through April 13). In addition, your school's English, journalism, and comparative literature departments are likely to have a number of awards and fellowships for your particular concentration as you move toward upperclassman status.

If the publishing industry catches your fancy, the Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation is a great place to turn. Its annual scholarship program provides renewable awards averaging $2,000 to high school seniors and college students interested in printing, graphics, and publishing careers. Applications for those awards are due April 1. And if you're a grad student looking at a publishing career, consider the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies; a number of scholarships and fellowships are available for students in its M.S. Publishing program.

Finally, if you decide that your love of books means you want to pursue a library career, there are plenty of opportunities for scholarships available. Your first stop should be at the American Library Association website, where one online application to the ALA Scholarship Program can be your ticket to dozens of both general and specific-area scholarships. If you know your specialty field, there are also professional organizations offering library-related scholarships in fields such as art, music, and medical libraries.

Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.