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Free Money Pt. 2: The Scholarship Edition

College Hacks is an ongoing series written by Micheal Lewis, Campus Admissions Manager for Columbia College of Missouri's Evening Campus. 

When most people think of free money for college, they think scholarships. Scholarships are financial awards that are based on academic merit or other criteria that must be met in order to be eligible for funding. These funds are similar to grants in that you will not be required to pay any of the money back. Billions of scholarship dollars are awarded annually to U.S. students attending college. What might surprise you is that due to a lack of applications, some funds are never awarded. Can you imagine? The money is just sitting in a lonely bank account somewhere, wishing for a worthy scholarship applicant. Let's find that money a good home.

You can be considered for a scholarship for any of the following reasons (and more):

  • Academic performance
  • Athletic achievement
  • Financial need (the FAFSA will be needed)
  • Religious affiliation
  • Minority status
  • Major of study
  • Heritage
  • Community affiliations

Scholarship Tips

Be sure to read the directions and criteria for each scholarship carefully. Many scholarships require that the FAFSA be completed first, so do it early each year (as soon as you complete your tax filings). Also, pay attention to deadlines. Many scholarships have early deadlines, but there are plenty of scholarships that award funds later in the year. Scared of writing an essay? Don't be. Have someone you trust look it over and provide feedback, or take it to your college writing center for further analysis. Tweak your letter so it's good, but make sure you don't edit out your own style and voice. After all, it's YOU these scholarships want to read. Not someone else.

Institutional Aid

Scholarships funded by your college or university are known as institutional aid. Some are automatically awarded to you and do not require a scholarship application. Others require a submission of some sort in order to be reviewed (application, letter, essay, etc.). Take a look at your college's financial aid page for more information about what types of scholarships are available.

National Scholarships

National scholarships (sometimes called outside or external scholarships) are scholarships awarded by organizations outside of the college or university, and are typically open to anyone that meets their criteria. Most people ignore national scholarships because they assume the application pool is too large and they won't qualify. In reality, the pool is much smaller than one would think. Go to reputable scholarship websites like and to find some great scholarships. Be careful of unknown sites that look sketchy, otherwise the only thing you'll be awarded are viruses and a stolen identity. Not cool. When in doubt, ask a financial aid representative at your school for help. 

Local Scholarships

Local organizations have money to give away too! Get the information you need on local scholarship funds by visiting your local library or visitor's bureau if your area has one. The librarian or bureau employee may not know specifics, but could provide you with information on organizations in your area that you can research on your own. Again, don't ever hesitate to chat with your financial aid representative. 

Scholarship Finder

Why do the hard work when your school can do it for you? Columbia College's scholarship finder tool is a great way to access national and local scholarships without hunting all over the place. There are hundreds of potential scholarships listed there as well as a few reputable third-party sites like the ones I mentioned earlier. 

If you could win a scholarship for anything in the world, what would it be? Leave us a taste of your talents in the comments below.

Next time, we are getting technical by highlighting some great apps that will blow your collegiate mind.

College Hacks, Columbia College, Money, Higher Education

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