So you've finally done it--studied your brains out, signed up for
a zillion activities and survived your SATs. You rock. Now all you
have to worry about is money. You panic.
Obviously, higher learning isn't cheap. At $5,000 to $10,000 per
year at a public university and $20,000+ for a top-tier private
school, getting into college is one thing. Paying for it is another. But
take heart: There are plenty of ways to finance your education
without borrowing your way into oblivion. And you don't have to be
a straight-A student or a budding Gabrielle Reece.
More than 45 percent of all financial aid for colleges comes from
the private sector: corporations, foundations, trusts, memorials and
religious groups. While most of these aren't advertised as obviously
as, say, Fruitopia, these scholarships and grants can be found; you
just have to get busy and track them down.
That's what 20-year-old Feona Sharhran Huff, a junior at Norfolk
State University in Norfolk, Virginia, did. Not wanting to
overburden her family financially, Feona started her search for
college scholarships when she was a junior in high school. Every day
she visited her guidance counselor's office and flipped through her
updated lists. "You have to start somewhere," she says. "I knew I
as black, a woman, and I loved to write." So she looked for any
special funds that dealt with writing, gender or race. She knew that
her church group had scholarship funds available, so she applied.
She also checked out banks and local businesses to see what kind
of money they had to offer. The result? Three scholarships from her
high school, one from her church youth group, a college-alumni
scholarship, a journalism scholarship and a Pell Grant (a governmental
need-based award that doesn't have to be repaid). "I refuse to take
out a loan," Feona says. "There's money out there. You just need to do
You can start by visiting your guidance counselor. Most of them post
scholarship information on bulletin boards, but it's usually your job
to keep up-to-date on deadlines, which pass daily. "There was only
one guidance counselor for our whole school," says 19-year-old Ara
Rosenthal, from Richmond Heights, Ohio. "So it was really up to me
to go through what information she had." Like Feona, Ara didn't
want to depend on her family. She lived with her grandparents, who
she knew wouldn't pay her way. "My senior year was spent filling out
applications and writing essays," says Ara, now a junior at
Northwestern University. "It was a lot of work, but I needed the
money--otherwise I never would have been able to go to Northwestern."
Ara ended up with nearly $20,000 a year to cover tuition and
expenses. The money came from myriad sources, including the
Kiwanis Club, a Cleveland newspaper and The Educational
Communications Scholarship Foundation. "I think my activities made
a big difference," she admits. Ara was editor-in-chief of her high
school newspaper, which helped land a scholarship from Cleveland's
Plain Dealer. She was also part of an improvisational theater group
that performed skits about current issues like date rape, AIDS and
domestic violence. "The group gave me a lot to write about and made
me look like a well-rounded person on the applications," she says.
Scholarships are based on everything from income, race and gender
to the hand you write with, so eligibility is critical. For example, if a
scholarship requires fluency in French and you can barely pronounce
"cafe au lait," don't bother filling out the application. And though
grades do count, they're not always the sole determining factor. David
Letterman, for instance, has a scholarship in his name at Indiana's
Ball State University that has no grade requirement; you just have to
submit a media project that demonstrates your "originality and
creativity." And the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund offers a scholarship
of $1,000 to journalism and communications students who intern at
one of their newspapers.
"My guidance counselor would get information about scholarships
she thought I was eligible for, give me an address to write to, and
then I'd do the application," says Amy Johnson, 19, from St. Louis.
Amy won five scholarships to put toward her four years at Oberlin
College. Three hundred dollars of her money came from playing the cello.
Just as some scholarships have specific requirements, some are only
for specific schools. The Frederick and Mary Beckley Scholarship
Fund offers $700 to $1,000 to left-handed students at Juniata
College, in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. The Oprah Winfrey Scholarship
is only available to students going to Morehouse College. And though
some schools offer better packages than others--last year Smith
College in Northampton, Massachusetts, had more than $17 million
available, and Emerson College offered $16 million--those schools are
usually so expensive that you still need some other source.
The federal government is another excellent source of money. To get
funding--or to see if you're eligible for it (these scholarships are
based on need)--you have to fill out a Free Application for Federal
Student Aid (FAFSA). These applications should be available in your
guidance counselor's office, or you can order one by calling the U.S.
Department of Education at 800-433-3243. The process is fairly
straightforward: After you fill out the FAFSA (you need your Social
Security number, the previous year's income-tax return and your
parents' tax return if you're applying as a dependent student) and
send it back, the government will let you know whether you're eligible
for a grant, loan, work-study package or a combination of the three
(work-study lets you work and earn money while you're at school;
grants are awards you don't have to pay back; loans are borrowed
money that you pay back with interest, or on which, depending on
the type, the government pays the interest). The government then
sends your forms to your colleges of choice, who will in turn tell
you how much they can give you. However, not all schools participate
in federal financial aid programs, so call the university's financial
aid office beforehand. You also have to reapply every year, and if
you transfer schools, your aid doesn't automatically go with you, so
be sure to check that out with your school's financial aid office, too.
Though the forms can be intimidating, it's worth it to fill them out.
"It was a drag," admits Liz Forster, 18, from Boulder, Colorado. "I
filled out the FAFSA, and then we sent the forms back and forth
because I didn't have the right information. But it paid off." Indeed:
Liz got money for both Emerson College, in Boston, and the University
of Colorado at Boulder. She got aid from each school as well.
Athletic scholarships also abound, although they're usually geared
toward a specific college. Eighteen-year-old Hillary Howard, from
Scarsdale, New York, won a full scholarship to Duke University
based on her basketball accomplishments. Brianne Spiers, also 18,
from Boulder, Colorado, landed herself a full scholarship to Ohio
State University by playing volleyball throughout high school (and
being really good at it). By the middle of her sophomore year, more
than 60 college recruiters had invited her to apply to their schools.
She chose Ohio State partly because of its financial package
(about $20,000 per year) and partly because of its science program.
To make the most of your money search, here are some guidelines:
* Start checking out all your resources--such as your high school
guidance counselor and librarian--as early as your junior year. Also
look to your church, local businesses and banks. Ask if they have
scholarship or grant money available. Then ask for a list of
requirements, deadlines and, of course, the application.
* Write or call the financial aid office at the school you're interested
in and ask for its financial aid package.
* Don't automatically exclude yourself from state or federal funding
because you think your family makes too much money. "It's always
good to apply, and the earlier you look, the more you realize what
your options are," says Betsy Hicks, deputy assistant secretary for
student financial assistance with the Department of Education.
* Be creative when sending out applications.
Include anything that makes you stand out, like newspaper articles
you wrote, prizes you won, drawings, etc. (Within reason, of
course--you might want to refrain from sending off your parents'
home videos of you as a baby.)
And above all, don't be discouraged. Sure, doing the research
and writing a million essays might not be your idea of a great time,
but think of it as a part-time job. Eventually, you'll get paid for it.
(This article originally
appeared in the November 1995 issue of Seventeen.)
Copyright 1995 K-III Magazine Corporation. All rights reserved.