College is expensive. According to US News and World Report, the cost of a four-year education at a private school is almost $30,000 per year and a four-year public school is nearly $20,000. With college inflation averaging nearly twice the rate of normal inflation, students and parents are searching for ways to pay for school without finding themselves too deeply in debt. Often, that comes from scholarships. There are some scholarships or grants available that are easier to get than others, even for students without extraordinary academic or athletic ability.
The Gates Millennium Scholars Program
The Gates Millennium Scholarship awards 1,000 minority students with graduation scholarships as well as personal and professional development. This scholarship is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a foundation started by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. It has awarded more than $614 million in scholarships as of 2010. Students must be nominated for the scholarship and complete the online application process in order to be eligible.
Federal Pell Grants
The federal government offers grants to families that can prove financial need. To be eligible for the grant, the student must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Awards normally fall between $100 and $4,000, but money is campus-based meaning that it will run out quickly. Complete the application as soon as possible. There are other government grants including the National SMART Grant and the Academic Competitiveness Grant.
The American Dream Scholarship
This scholarship, in partnership with the United Negro College Fund, is open to African American students with a minimum 2.5 grade point average. They have to meet Pell Grant eligibility criteria, which means that completing the FAFSA is necessary for this scholarship. Awards range from $500 to $5,000.
AAUW Educational Foundation Career Development Grants
The American Association of University Women offers a grant designed to help women who already have a college education by paying for graduate degrees or other training to progress in their chosen career fields. In the 2012-2013 school year, the AAUW will provide more than $4.3 million in funding to eligible women through 278 fellowships and grants.
Best Buy Scholarships
Best Buy will award $1,000 scholarships to more than 1,100 students living in the U.S. and Puerto Rico who will enter college after their high school graduations. To date, Best Buy has awarded more than $20 million in funds that have helped 16,545 students attend college. Selected students must demonstrate academic achievements, volunteer efforts and work experience.
Dell Scholars Program
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation offers this scholarship based on the students' determination to find success through higher education. Only a 2.4 grade point average is required to apply for the scholarship, but students must have first participated in the Dell Foundation college readiness program.
These scholarships and grants are offered to students all over the country. However, many organizations only award funds to a small amount of students. Sallie Mae offers this advice to students looking for scholarships:
First, don't rule yourself out. Even if you aren't a star athlete or an AP scholar, there are likely scholarships that could provide you with the funding you need. These are sometimes based on financial need, your degree program or your ability to write.
Second, apply for as many scholarships as you can. If you qualify, apply for the scholarship, but make sure you follow all applications instructions exactly. Late applications are usually discarded.
The Bottom Line
The cost of college continues to rise and that has left students and families wondering how they will pay for higher education. Scholarships probably won't pay for your entire college education but they can pay for a significant portion, leaving a much smaller amount for you to cover.