As we have mentioned before, the transition from high-school to college comes with challenges for everyone. Oftentimes, one of the biggest challenges when starting college is figuring out how you are going to is pay for it!
With college costs skyrocketing in recent years, scholarships are becoming more and more important for college applicants. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012 the average student at a 4-year institution received $9,740 in scholarship and grant money. This is a quick guide to help students with disabilities navigate the often complex world of scholarships.
Finding A Scholarship
It’s important to understand the three biggest categories of scholarships: Merit-Based, Need-Based, and what I will call “other.”
Merit-Based scholarships award students based on academic, artistic, athletic, and really every imaginable type of achievement.
Need-Based scholarships attempt to identify individuals, through the FAFSA form, who need help paying for college. These scholarships are often provided by the college itself, or through the government.
The third category, what I referred to as “other,” contains scholarships that you could win for essentially every imaginable reason. Many of these scholarships are essentially an essay contest. There are scholarships for women, people of color, people with disabilities, people who play the drumset, and yes, even people who are really into daydreaming about the zombie apocalypse.
There are literally millions of scholarships out there, and a seemingly equally high number of services on the web dedicated to helping you find the right ones for your situation. Luckily for you, I spent some time sorting through those services. I narrowed them down to the three listed below.
Here is a list of three free, reputable scholarship search engines:
- Peterson’s has over 5000 scholarship providers, 1.5 million scholarships, and $10 billion in scholarships on their site.
- As well as a scholarship reference, Peterson’s has great resources for finding the ideal university, as well as standardized test prep.
- Their site is relatively easy to navigate and allows users to search scholarships by keyword (disability, Cerebral Palsy, etc.).
- CollegeBoard, the same company that administers the Advancement Placement (AP) and SAT tests has $6 billion in scholarships on its website.
- The real advantage to using this site is that it allows users of AP and SAT testing to use the same login and profile information that they entered for those programs to search for scholarships, as well as a host of other resources.
- Fastweb, a subsidiary of Monster.com, also boasts around 1.5 million scholarships, with $3 billion in total scholarship funds on their site.
- Fastweb requires users to create a profile in order to search for scholarships. The profile is free and takes 10-15 minutes.
- Fastweb will tailor the scholarships that it shows users based on their profile, and will notify users of new scholarships that might interest them.
- Fastweb also has free career advice, financial aid and college search resources.
There are many other sites that may work for you, but these are the three that I relied on when I was applying for college scholarships only a few years ago.
Before using these sites, it helped me to sit down and make a profile of myself. Starting with characteristics such as race, gender, disability status, etc. and, then, try to make a list of the things you were involved with in high school such as: your academic interests, your hobbies, and your potential areas of study in college. Each and every one of these things can open the door to a potentially lucrative scholarship opportunity.
It is also important to keep a few things in mind as you begin your search for scholarships.
Don’t forget to look for scholarship opportunities in your local area. Ask your school counselor about local scholarships, and maybe even give your local area library a call. I learned about a few very important local scholarships through my library.
You should also find out which UCP Affiliate is closest to you by using your zip code in our affiliate finder. It is worth giving your local affiliate a call to see if they have any scholarship or suggestions of other funding opportunities for students headed off to college.
Pay Special Attention to the School You Are Attending
If you know which school you will be attending, make sure to do everything you can to find out about all of your specific college’s financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Many of the scholarships you apply to will be specific to that school, and can be found on their website or by contacting their financial aid office.
You may also want to contact the disability services offices at your prospective schools to see if there are any grants or scholarships available specifically for disabled students.
Keep Track of Deadlines and Eligibility
You will find that as you accumulate scholarship applications, you will accumulate even more deadlines. I recommend putting together a calendar that only has scholarship deadlines and keep it separate from your application deadlines.
Put the Work In
You will notice that there is a wild difference in the amounts of work required to apply to various scholarships. While it may be tempting to spend a lot of time applying to “no-essay” national scholarships with applications that don’t take much time, keep in mind that there are probably hundreds of thousands of other students doing the same thing. I’ve found that you will get out what you put into the scholarship process, so don’t ignore the scholarships that require an essay or two.
This is a good little resource for writing scholarship essays. It always helped me to try to envision who was going to be reading my essay, and why they were interested in me and what I had to say. Try to convince your friends, family, teachers, mentors and anyone who is willing to proofread your essays and provide suggestions. Don’t be shy!
Here are some trustworthy scholarships specifically for individuals with disabilities to get you started on your scholarship search:
It may also be worth checking out this financial aid resource for students with disabilities put out by George Washington University’s HEATH Resource Center. HEATH serves as a national online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities.
In conclusion… applying to college is stressful for a plethora of reasons, but scholarships don’t have to be one of them!