Countless numbers of studies over the years have shown that college graduates experience lower levels of unemployment, and earn more, than their non-degree earning counterparts.
In addition to these statistics, there are also several other “pros” of obtaining a degree, such as increased access to job opportunities, personal growth, greater opportunity to build a professional network, and higher levels of job satisfaction, just to name a few.
While this information is good to know, it is also worth noting that obtaining a degree can be expensive. And by expensive, I mean very expensive.
So, for many students across the globe, the conundrum becomes “Is obtaining a degree worth the investment and debt that it is likely to incur?”
This may not be the answer that you want to hear, but the answer that I have for you is that it depends on a few different things. Most careers don’t require you to have a Ph.D., a greater portion will require that you have a bachelor’s degree, yet others might say that an associate’s degree or even a Professional Certificate is just the ticket.
So, before you dive right into a four-year college, or make the decision to go back to school to get your master’s degree, start with a little internal digging, or what I like to call, “soul searching”.
Ask yourself these questions to try to figure out if there is a career path or specific field that you know you want to pursue:
1.What are my interests?
In answering this question, you will want to consider some of the things that you are always game to learn more about and get involved in.
Now, not everyone is able to take the things that they are interested in and turn them into full-time jobs or careers. For example, I love to cook, but you won’t catch me leaving my day job to become a chef! However, depending on where your interests truly lie, taking those interests and incorporating them into your career might be feasible. Maybe you love helping children, in which case, there are tons of jobs and career paths out there that focus on that.
2.What skills do I have?
This question can usually be answered best by thinking back to past experiences that you have had, whether in specific jobs, your academic career, or in your everyday life outside of those areas.
You’ll want to try to come up with a list of both hard skills (i.e. web development, writing, mathematics) and soft skills (i.e. leadership, patience, agreeableness), since skills in both of these areas are key to success in most jobs.
3.What are my dreams?
This is the final question you will want to ask yourself. Think about if there is anything in particular that you have always said “Wow, I would love to do that for a career”.
Keep in mind that while some people know what they want to do early on in their lives, a lot of us do not, and it might take time to experience a few different options (and learn from them) in order to narrow down what it is we are actually passionate about.
In asking yourself these questions, and hopefully answering them in as much detail as possible, you are helping to illuminate the way in terms of getting to the bottom of determining which career path is the right one for you.
If this soul-searching activity has led you to make the decision that you will, should, or want to obtain a degree beyond your high school diploma, that’s great! However, you still may be wondering which type of degree is the right one for you.
Below, I have highlighted the main types of degree options that are out there, including key information on what type of student/career each degree is most-suited for and cost considerations to keep in mind.
What it is: Unlike an undergraduate degree, which often requires students to take courses that are not always 100% focused on their established major, a trade school degree or program is one in which you will likely focus solely on learning and becoming good at the trade in which you plan to pursue.
Trade school programs are generally significantly cheaper (usually between $5,000 and $15,000) and shorter than undergraduate degree programs (most can be completed in less than two years).
Who it’s designed for: If you are planning on entering a technical field in which you must have a very specific set of skills, then this could be the option for you. In fields such as HVAC, contracting, massage therapy, and hairstyling, employers put less emphasis on your degree credentials (i.e., where you got it from) and more emphasis on your skillset.
-If you know exactly what you want to do and are simply looking to develop the skills you need to become certified for that specific trade, then this route will definitely save you time and money.
-These degrees focus less on giving you the “overall package” in terms of learning about lots of different topics and meeting people who are pursuing degrees in other areas.
-By going the trade-school route and obtaining those specific skills, if you ever decide later on down the line that you want to sidestep into a different type of career, you may have to go back to school.
An undergraduate degree, which is typically the next-in-line degree that students will go for after earning a high school diploma, comes in a few different forms.
Usually, an undergraduate degree will consist of “general education” classes (which are broad) and major-specific classes (which are more narrowly focused on what area you want to pursue).
The two main types of undergraduate degrees are Associate (2-year) and Bachelor (4-year).
What it is: The associate degree is a 2-year degree that is normally obtained through community college. As of 2019, there were approximately 940 community colleges all across the United States. Despite this, there are some 4-year colleges and universities and vocational schools which also offer Associate degrees.
Who it’s designed for: The ideal candidates for an associate degree are 1) someone who is looking to approach the college process in a more economical way, and 2) someone who is looking to jump right into the job-world as soon as possible.
Associate degrees are more economical than Bachelor's degrees because the cost of attending a community college is generally much cheaper than attending a four-year college or university (because it is a shorter program and just because of the nature of the schools themselves).
-If you are looking to save money and get into the job market ASAP, but you want to earn a degree and pursue a career in a field that is not covered by a trade school certification, then this might be a good option.
-Students can also use an Associate degree as a stepping stone into the Bachelor degree to save LOTS of money (see “Transfer degree” below)
-Depending on where you go for your Associate degree, you may find that the selection for majors is limited.
-Associate degrees (aka, community college) can sometimes be seen as less prestigious than a Bachelor's degree. Unfortunately, prestige is still something that most (but not all) employers consider when looking at your resume to determine potential prospects of employment.
-If you attend a community college, you may find that the atmosphere is not as vibrant or “happening” in comparison to if you were on the campus of a four-year college or university. This could be because many of the students who attend community college choose to commute. While this is great for saving money, it can mean that you will be getting less of the “traditional college experience”.
What it is: The bachelor's degree is the type of college degree that is most commonly referenced when people talk about “going to college”. According to US News, there are over 4,000 colleges and universities across the US in which you can possibly attend to complete your bachelor's degree.
The bachelor's degree generally takes about 4 years to complete and is a required prerequisite to attending graduate school.
Most bachelor's degrees are composed of three different types of courses: general education, major-specific, and elective.
Who it’s designed for: Unlike associate degrees, there are generally a lot more options for majors and areas of study when you pursue a bachelor's degree. While there are MANY different types of bachelor degrees, the two most common are B.A. (Bachelor of Arts, which is usually liberal arts-focused) and B.S. (Bachelor of Science, which is usually more science-focused).
Most four-year colleges and universities offer hundreds of options for majors that students can pursue. These range from mechanical engineering to economics to psychology to textile and fashion design (just to name a few!).
-The bachelor's degree is usually considered to be the degree that employers look for when you are applying for entry-level jobs after graduation.
-When you obtain your bachelor's degree, it generally places you in a higher potential earnings range than if you were to obtain a trade school or associate degree, which can lead to more opportunities for professional advancement, a greater level of job security, etc.
-Whether you live on campus or not, the majority of students who obtain bachelor's degrees from four-year colleges and universities tend to be involved in other activities and organizations that happen on and around campus, which can make it seem more vibrant.
-Oftentimes, there are lots of opportunities to network and meet students from different places who are pursuing degrees that can be vastly different from your own.
-Rather than just taking classes that are relevant to what you want to pursue, the bachelor's degree requires you to take general education classes first, which can be helpful if you are not completely sure what you want to do for your career (I know I wasn’t!).
-The most obvious and biggest con to obtaining a bachelor's degree is that it is oftentimes extremely expensive, and has the potential to leave you with a fair amount of debt, depending on your situation.
What it is: The transfer degree is obtained when you start out attending a community college and, once you complete your associate degree at a community college, you can then transfer to a four-year college or university to attend for your junior and senior year.
Who it’s designed for: The transfer degree is designed for students who want to graduate with a bachelor's degree but do not want to pay the full sticker price of attending a traditional college or university for four or five years. Once you complete your associate degree at a community college, you can then transfer to a four-year college or university to attend for your junior and senior years.
-The main benefit (and the reason why students will transfer) is because it can save you money since you will not be paying the price of attending a four-year school for all four years.
-If you are not sure if a four-year degree is right for you, starting out at community college and obtaining an associate degree might be a smart move, both for your career and for your wallet.
-The only potential con to the transfer degree is that there is risk involved when it comes to transferring from a community college to a four-year college or university. This move can require a significant amount of time and effort spent into researching the process and figuring out which schools you are interested in are “transfer-friendly”.
A graduate degree is next-in-line degree after you obtain your bachelor's degree. Obtaining a graduate degree is by no means the norm, but depending on what field or career you are going into, it may be necessary.
The length of time to complete a graduate degree can vary immensely, with a time investment ranging from one to eight years. In terms of competitiveness, graduate programs tend to be more rigorous than bachelor programs, with more of an emphasis on individual research.
Some professions that require a graduate degree include physician’s assistant, social worker, and psychologist. For a more robust list, click here.
What it is: The master’s degree is a common type of graduate degree and can be pursued anywhere from directly following the completion of the bachelor's degree to later on in life. Master’s degrees do not have general education requirements and are focused specifically on helping you to gain more knowledge and advance your skills in the field that you intend to go into.
Most master’s degrees take between one and two years to complete. There are around 100 different concentration options for master’s degrees, but some of the most common areas of study include business administration (MBA), social work, engineering, and education.
Personally, I feel like the relevancy of obtaining a master’s degree has been contested in recent years. Some professionals that I have spoken to have advised me that it is not always worth the investment and that you can gain similar skills and experiences through a job in your desired industry. However, this is still largely a personal preference in terms of what you think will be the best for you.
Who it’s designed for: If you are looking to get an additional “leg up” in terms of looking good to potential employers, then having a master’s degree might be for you.
-Greater earning potential than if you have just an associate or bachelor degree
-Makes you more marketable to employers
-Can be very expensive!
What it is: The doctoral degree is one step up from the master’s degree. In order to be eligible to apply for a doctoral degree, you must have obtained your bachelor’s degree. Depending on the area that you are going into, you may or may not also need a master’s degree.
Doctoral degrees are the highest possible type of degree that a student can earn in a specific area of study. The two types of doctoral degrees are the Ph.D., which has an emphasis on research-based study, and the applied degree, which has an emphasis on teaching.
These degrees can take up to six years to complete, depending on the concentration.
Who it’s designed for: The doctoral degree is designed for people who want to enter into the “upper echelon” crew of higher education.
-Having a doctorate degree typically means that you can expect to be paid more
-Often leads to greater job security
-People with doctorate degrees are pretty dang respected in their field! There is a significant amount of credibility that comes with obtaining a doctorate due to the amount of time and effort that goes into the process.
-The fact that they can take anywhere between four and six years to complete makes them a significant investment of time.
-They tend to be especially challenging (since they are at the highest degree level)
-More money spent on education
So, I know that I have thrown a TON of information at you in this post. The main takeaway that I want you to get out of it is that there are so many options in terms of types of degrees that are out there for you to pursue. I am not saying this to overwhelm you, but rather to remind you that there is a path out there that is right for you.
Ultimately, the type and/or the number of degrees that you earn is dependent on factors such as your intended career, how much time you want to commit, and how much money you have or are willing to invest in your education.
Generally speaking, the higher the degree that you are able to obtain, the greater level of prestige you will be met with, which often comes with more money and more opportunities.
However, if, in order to obtain those degrees, you will have to set yourself back significantly on the money front, this is definitely something to consider ahead of time and factor into your decision-making process.
At the end of the day, regardless of what type of degree you are going for, the great news is that there are scholarships out there for you to apply for to help reduce your costs!
Head over here to our search tool to get started with your scholarship search.
While preparing for your first (or subsequent) year of college is often an exciting journey, the process of planning, researching, and figuring out how to pay for college can turn it into a stressful one.
In this post, I will take you through the most common questions and answers pertaining to the FAFSA and applying for financial aid, and include some bonus resources to help you get ahead and stay on track.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once you have filled out this form, your college or university will take your information and use it to determine your eligibility for receiving financial aid to help you pay for school.
The FAFSA form is available on or around October 1st of each year, and you fill it out for the first time as a senior in high school.
Here is a link that will show you information on the various FAFSA deadlines (there are deadlines by college, by state, and more!).
In order to maximize your chances of getting aid (some schools operate on a first-come, first-serve basis), I recommend that you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after the application opens.
The process of submitting your FAFSA may seem daunting, but if you follow these steps, it doesn’t have to be!
Your FSA ID is a username and password that allows you to easily access your FAFSA form, the myStudentAid app, and more. Creating your FSA ID takes just a couple of minutes, and we highly recommend you create your ID before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA, as this will cut down on potential delays in the process.
*Important note* If you are a dependent student, one of your parents will also need to create his or her own FSA ID (the parent who creates the ID should be the one whose information is reported on the FAFSA form) in order to be able to sign your application once you have finished filling it out.
According to Studentaid.gov, the following documents or information may be helpful to have on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:
-Your SSN (Social Security number) AND your parents’ SSN if you are a dependent student.
-Your driver’s license number, if applicable.
-Your Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
-Tax information or returns for both you AND your parents (parental tax information needed for dependent students only). This includes the IRS W-2 and 1040, and possibly other information depending on the state and country you live in.
-Money and banking information such as:
It is crucial to make sure that you have all of this information on hand and organized for when you go to fill out the FAFSA.
*Tip from me: Print out all necessary documents and information, label them, and store them in a folder that you can both easily access and keep somewhere safe so it won’t get lost or damaged. If you want to save some trees, consider organizing everything into a folder on Google Drive that you can easily share with your parents.
Students have four options when it comes to filling out the FAFSA:
I recommend either applying online at fafsa.gov or using the mobile app.
When you are filling out the FAFSA, you will see that you must list at least one school to receive your information. Each school you list on your form will use your information to determine how much and what types of aid you are eligible to receive.
When you fill out the form online or in the mobile app, you can list up to 10 schools, but be aware that if you fill out the form via PDF, you may only list up to 4.
Simply put, you should list any school that you are planning on applying to on your FAFSA form, regardless of whether or not you have been accepted.
Quick tips for filling out the FAFSA:
-Double and triple-check that your name and SSN match what is listed on your Social Security card
-Make sure you enable pop-ups from fafsa.ed.gov to ensure that the application functions properly
-Create a save key at the beginning of the application, which you can use if you want to complete the form in multiple sittings while still saving your information as you go. Make sure you write your save key down!
Make sure that you sign in with your FSA ID when you go to sign and submit your FAFSA, as this will ensure that the form is processed correctly and quickly.
Once you have submitted your form, you should automatically receive a confirmation email (check your spam/junk mail too!).
*Tip from me: If you have a sibling who also needs a FAFSA form filled out, check your confirmation page for the option to have the parent information transferred to the other student’s application.
Once you have submitted your FAFSA, you can log into your account at fafsa.gov (with your FSA ID username and password) to check on the status of your application.
Within a few weeks of submitting your application, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is essentially a summary of all of the information you submitted in your FAFSA. It is your job to go through your SAR and make sure all of the information is 100% correct!
Once you have been accepted to a college or university that was listed on your FAFSA, that school will send you either an electronic or paper offer (aka award letter) which will tell you how much aid you are eligible to receive.
*Tip from me: Once you have received your award letter, it is important to go through it and understand exactly what types of aid are being offered (loans vs grants/scholarships), what aid you really need, and then decide what you are going to accept.
If you've been applying to scholarships for a while (or even if you haven't), chances are, you're getting tired of writing all those essays. It's a lot of work - we feel you! A good strategy when applying to scholarships is to mix up the types of scholarships you're applying to, in terms of scholarship type (essay or no essay) and amount (generally scholarships with higher award amounts are harder to earn). To give your hands a break from all that typing here's our list of quick and easy no-essay scholarships.
Most of these scholarships are open to students of all school years, so check them out, get those easy applications in, and keep your fingers crossed.
*Pro-tip* - While some of these scholarships currently have specific deadlines, keep them bookmarked because they often renew monthly, quarterly, or yearly!
Award Amount: Generally $1,000, but varies (sometimes it's $2,222!)
Scholarship Deadline: Last day of each month
Award Amount: $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $10,000
Scholarship Deadline: Quarterly
Award Amount: $25,000
Scholarship Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $2,500
Scholarship Deadline: Last day of each month
Award Amount: $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: Quarterly (last day of the month in September, December, March, and June)
Award Amount: $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $2,000
Scholarship Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $500
Scholarship Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $500
Scholarship Deadline: January 4
Award Amount: $500
Scholarship Deadline: January 4
Award Amount: $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: February 27 and October 10
Award Amount: $10,000
Scholarship Deadline: March 9
Award Amount: $500
Scholarship Deadline: March 31
Award Amount: $5,000
Scholarship Deadline: April 1
Award Amount: $2,500
Scholarship Deadline: May 31
Award Amount: $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: June 30
The answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY! Every scholarship we have featured in our blog posts and in our database is 100% legit, so you never have to worry about being scammed! Ultimately, each and every scholarship we feature aims to help provide help and support to students going through the difficult process of paying for college.
With that, we'll leave it to you!
I would be lying if I told you that the world of scholarships is one that is always easy to navigate.
The fact that there are thousands upon thousands of scholarships, along with the added fact that there are so many different types of scholarships for students to apply for, more often than not leaves students feeling overwhelmed and unsure of their next move.
In this post, I am going to tell you everything you need to know about the biggest category of scholarships that’s out there - merit scholarships.
To give it to you plainly, merit scholarships are scholarships that students receive due to their academic success. Academic success is usually just thought to be your standardized test scores, GPA, and grades.
However, for these scholarships, academic success is not only limited to those three categories; it also includes leadership roles, community involvement, and extracurricular activities (think sports, arts, etc).
Now that you know that merit scholarships include scholarship opportunities across all of those categories I listed above, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that merit scholarships are a very common type of scholarship that students apply for.
By the way - For reference, the other type of scholarship that people often refer to is called need-based. While I won’t go into too much detail on need-based scholarships here (focusing on merit scholarships!), need-based scholarships simply are those that are awarded to students based on financial need.
As I was saying, there are a lot of types of merit scholarships that students can apply for. One of the most well-known or recognizable types of merit scholarships is the full-ride scholarship, aka scholarships that provide winning students with enough money to cover most or all of their college tuition.
Yes, these scholarships are as great as they sound! Unfortunately, they tend to be extremely competitive due to the amount of money that they save students, however, I highly encourage you to apply for a few that you’re eligible for and give it your best shot!
Great question - I have an answer! These types of scholarships are offered by national and international companies and organizations, private organizations, your home state, and even smaller community-based organizations.
So, whether you’re looking specifically for those full-ride scholarships, or for the more common merit-based scholarships, I highly suggest you start your search by taking a scroll through our database as the vast majority of the scholarships are, luckily for you, merit-based!
Additionally, be sure to reach out to your school counselor (if you’re in high school) to inquire about local merit-based scholarships that are available for students in your school or your community. These types of scholarships, while you won’t always find them in our directory, are great because they generally receive fewer applications than the popular scholarships by name-brand organizations (which means a higher chance of winning - yay!!).
Another area of more local scholarships and financial aid that is definitely worth mentioning is state-based aid. These are opportunities that you are sometimes, but not always, considered for when you file the FAFSA. Be sure to check out my post on state-based aid and scholarships to learn more about these!
Also on the topic of where to look for these merit-based scholarships, one additional place is the National Merit Scholarship Program. This program awards three different types of merit scholarships, and for the most part, the winners are all based on students’ PSAT/NMSQT score. So, if you’re in high school and you’re one of those exceptionally high performers when it comes to standardized test scores, be sure to check this program out!
The final (and perhaps one of the easiest) places to look for merit scholarships is through your college or university.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking at applying to schools in the Ivy League (or a handful of schools not in the Ivy League that are also extremely selective), know that these schools don’t offer merit-based scholarships. All scholarships and aid awarded from these schools is need-based (see above for the definition ICYMI!).
For the majority of students who attend college or university at a school that is outside of the Ivy League (and those other few extremely competitive schools), you will be happy to learn that it is very possible to earn merit scholarships to help you fund your tuition and other aspects of your education.
So, I’ve pretty much covered everything you need to know about merit scholarships. However, as I’m wrapping up, there are two important things that you should know and keep in mind about merit scholarships:
1. While it certainly helps to have straight A’s and awesome test scores, even if you don’t fall into those categories, congrats, you are human!! It is NOT the end of the world WHATSOEVER, because like I said, many of the merit scholarships out there also consider factors such as your involvement, course load, and leadership roles. So, don’t think that just because you aren’t the best student doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible to apply for (and win!) merit scholarships.
2. If you win one of these competitive merit scholarships (like a full-ride or even partial scholarship), it is likely that the organization or donor will require you to uphold a certain GPA during your time at college or university in order to keep receiving the money.
Now, that sums up everything you need to know about merit scholarships! For tips and tricks on organizing your scholarship search applying, check out my other article 7 Tips for Successfully Organizing and Executing Your Scholarship Search.
The Common Application is an online application that allows students pursuing an undergraduate degree to fill out one singular application to apply to over 900 colleges and universities across the globe. This application makes it easy for first-year applicants to apply to multiple schools without having to juggle the different pieces of completely separate applications.
Just like with any college application, when you prepare to apply to colleges using the Common Application, you will need to get a few things put together before you go ahead and hit "submit."
Some of the key components to your application include your high school transcript, letters of recommendation, activity and involvement lists, and academic honors and achievements. While these are all super important pieces of the puzzle, today we are going to focus in on a completely different section of the application, which is the essays.
On the Common Application, you may notice that there are a few different sections of essays that come up: the personal essay, college-specific questions, and writing supplements. Most colleges and universities that use the Common Application will require you to write the personal essay. The college-specific questions and writing supplement requirements vary across schools; some may require them, others may make them optional, and others may not have any to begin with.
I know I said earlier that this post is going to focus on the essay-portion of the Common Application, but when I said "essay", I meant, more specifically, the personal essay!
Usually there are around 6 prompt options for the personal essay, which is great because out of the 6, you can pick the one that resonates with you the most and write your essay in response to that prompt. For the 2021-2022 year, the Common App added a 7th prompt.
Here is the full list of the 7 Common App prompts for 2021-2022. Underneath each prompt, I have also bulleted some ideas and suggestions on how to respond to or approach each one.
Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
There you have it, the 7 Common Application prompts for 2021-2022, accompanied by some brief thought bubbles, dissections, and things to think about!
I know that the process of writing your Common App essay can seem daunting (I wrote mine not too long ago!), but ultimately, after spending some time brainstorming, refining topics and ideas, and chatting with friends and family, I can guarantee that you will come out of the process with an awesome and unique essay that is bound to WOW those admissions people!
If you're looking for more fab resources specifically on writing those college essays, I highly recommend heading over to the College Essay Guy Blog!
Other recommended reading:
Ah, the good old personal statement essay. This essay, which colleges and universities often require for you to submit along with the rest of your application, is often considered a small but mighty contribution.
Unlike your SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and transcript, the college admissions essay is one of the few pieces of your application where you have the opportunity to tell your story, what makes you tick, and show why you will be a great fit on campus. When reading your essay, college admissions officers generally search to answer the following three questions:
Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that your essay checks off a few major boxes before you go and hit “submit”.
Your personal statement should…
While there is certainly never an appropriate time to bend the truth, this is even more so the case when writing your admissions essay. The whole point of the essay is that it is supposed to show admissions officers the “true you”. Officers are looking for proof that you possess the qualities of a strong and qualified applicant (think: empathy, perseverance, creativity, etc), so be sure that whatever story you tell highlights your strengths!
One common misconception about the college admissions essay is that you need to write about a HUGE time or event that completely altered your life and the entire universe. This is far from the truth! While your topic or story does not have to be about something so big, it should be something that is personally important to you. Regardless of the topic you choose to write about, you should be writing with a clear theme and message in mind that wraps your story together.
If you are writing about a certain summer job you had and how it impacted you, the one thing you should AVOID doing is plainly stating what you did and the impact it had. Be specific in telling your story, and explain the significance of the job through the details. Your goal should be to write as if you are allowing the reader to physically be in the room with you, witnessing what you went through in those moments. If you feel that this is an area you may need help with, your English teacher can likely provide some extra tips and tricks!
Because the essay is generally limited to 500 words, every single word counts! This means that you must be extremely careful to ensure that you are only including words and sentences that are relevant to telling your story. This is where it is important to differentiate between information that is crucial for the admissions officer to know (so that they can fully understand your story) and information that might be helpful to know but will not “make or break” the overall message.
Although it depends on the size of the school and how many applications are received, it is safe to say that admissions officers read A LOT of essays (think: hundreds, or even thousands!). Because of the sheer volume of essays they receive, it is your job to differentiate yourself as much as possible through your style and story from the very first sentence! Starting your essay with something along the lines of “Once upon a time…” or “Five years ago, my life changed forever” is probably not going to make you stand out. Get creative with your introduction to get your readers hooked!
This one goes along with the fact that admissions officers read so many essays each season. You want to avoid making your essay sound predictable, and you certainly don’t want your admissions officer to roll their eyes at a play on words you made that is corny or overused. Since you are trying to prove to your readers that you are going to bring a fresh and new perspective and ideas to campus, make this evident through your style.
Imagine you sit down one Saturday and decide to tackle your college admissions essay. You spend the next few days thinking about ideas, planning, writing a draft, and then you submit it. What is wrong with this picture? The answer is a lack of editing and proofreading before submission! You may spend a sufficient amount of time brainstorming and planning your essay, but that won’t matter in the end if you submit an essay full of spelling or grammar mistakes. Therefore, it is important to make yourself a checklist before you get writing so that you don’t forget to spend an ample amount of time planning, editing, and proofreading your essay before you submit it.
Now that we have covered the essentials of what your college admissions essay SHOULD include, let’s touch on a few important and common questions that students tend to ask.
The answer is, it depends! Some prompts might specify that your essay should be “at least” 500 words, while others may say something like “In 500 words, tell us a story about a time when…”. The general rule of thumb is that if the prompt says something like “at least” or “no more than” 500 words, be sure to adhere to those borders. However, if the prompt does not specify, then you should aim to be as close to 500 as possible, but don’t worry about hitting it exactly on the dot.
Students tend to get the idea that your personal statement essay must be the most professional-sounding and seriously written piece of work in their repertoire. This is not the case! While it should sound polished and it should definitely be edited and proofread, the tone of your essay can be whatever you feel like will get the message across the best. After all, you want admissions officers to hear your voice through your writing.
While it would certainly be to your benefit to write about something that is unique to you, if nothing terribly unique comes to mind in your brainstorming, consider writing about a pivotal event or experience in your life, but doing so with a unique or uncommon approach.
While the 500-word essay, or personal statement, may seem daunting, it certainly does not have to be if you save yourself an adequate amount of time to brainstorm, draft, write, edit and proofread before submitting. Ultimately, your essay should be 100% unique to you, and it should help admissions officers gain a better idea of what kind of person you are and what you bring to the table. Therefore, your essay should sound like it is written by YOU, and not by a robot or third source. Remember that while there is no “correct” structure, format, or tone that you must write your essay in, at the end of the day, it should tell a true and engaging story that shows your personality and who you are. Now that you have the tools and knowledge to write a killer 500-word essay, happy writing!
(Bonus resource: If you are looking for some inspiration to get your creative juices flowing, check out these 26 Outstanding College Essays!)
If you liked this post, check out these other articles related to college:
I have spoken to a LOT of students (mostly through Instagram, but also through my office hours sessions) who have requested I post more information and resources for those of you who want to study in the US.
So, if you're a student currently living in a country other than the United States, and you are considering (or already planning on) coming here to pursue your higher education degree (whether it's undergrad or grad), you've come to the right place.
FULL DISCLAIMER: As someone who attended college in the US as a US citizen and non-international student, I am definitely no certified guru on all of the ins and outs of what goes into this process.
However, I have been doing a fair bit of research on this over the last few weeks per your requests, so now I want to share the wealth of my findings with you here!
Without further ado, below, I will outline the general process of everything you need to know in order to prepare to and successfully study in the US.
First things first, you're going to want to start by doing some research on the schools that you might be interested in attending. If you are interested in coming to the US for your undergraduate degree, it is recommended that you start this process anywhere between 12 and 18 months prior to when you would start your first semester.
You'll want to start the process by making sure that the schools you are looking at are certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). You can do this by heading to this school search.
Luckily, there are literally thousands of schools on this list, so I am positive that you will have no problem shortlisting at least a few after you've narrowed down your criteria.
Speaking of narrowing down your criteria, if you want to make this process as seamless as possible, you'll likely want to answer a few of these questions below to help you get started and pick some schools:
*Why do I want to study in the US?
1) what type of program am I interested in?
2) will I need financial assistance, and if so, how much?
3) what are the specific deadlines for the schools I am interested in?
4) is there any specific area of the country that I want to study in?
5) what type of school do I want to attend (for example, a large public university or a small private college, a city school, or a rural campus?)
After you've answered hopefully all of these questions, you can look to the next step, which is focusing on how you are going to finance your degree.
Your education, like a lot of other things, is an investment in your future, so it is of the utmost importance that you spend a considerable amount of time assessing your options financially and factoring cost into the equation as you think about what schools you're interested in.
It's no secret that studying in the US can be expensive. However, it doesn't necessarily have to be. Location is one thing you will definitely want to keep in mind here. Certain schools are notably more expensive than others because they are located in areas with a high cost of living.
If you know that you are on a budget, consider focusing your research on public universities (they tend to be less expensive than private schools) that are located in more suburban or rural areas, as opposed to bustling cities.
Also on the topic of finances, as an international student looking to study in the US, you, unfortunately, cannot apply for the FAFSA or federal aid. However, lots of US colleges and universities offer generous scholarships and tuition opportunities to international students.
This great resource allows you to search through these opportunities and offerings based on degree level, US state, and location. I suggest you use this tool to look up the opportunities that all of the schools you are interested in have to offer.
PS - the easiest way to keep track of all of this information is definitely through a spreadsheet. I definitely recommend creating one where you can keep track of all the financial information you find about the schools you want to apply to, so you can eventually compare!
Now that we've gotten some of the finance stuff out of the way, we can focus more on the actual admissions process.
Since the majority of you who have reached out to me have been asking specifically about undergraduate degrees, I'm going to walk you through some key pieces of the undergraduate admissions process, highlighted directly from the EducationUSA website:
One thing I additionally want to note is that each US college and university has its own specific set of application requirements, so be sure to check on each school's website to make sure you have everything you need to apply!
Once you have gone through the admissions process and you have been accepted to the school(s) you applied to, you can look into the next step, which is applying for your visa.
Along with your acceptance to a school, you will receive what's called a Form I-20, or "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status". After you receive this form, you then must pay a fee (called an I-901 SEVIS Fee) so that you can be issued a visa. If you do not pay this fee, you cannot go through the visa process, so make sure you pay it!
The proper visa for students coming to study in the US through an undergraduate program is the F-1 visa. This page highlights everything else you will need to guide you through the visa application process.
Once your visa is fully processed, you can continue to prepare (mentally, emotionally, AND financially) to head over to study in the US! Speaking of financial preparation...
Hopefully whatever school you end up deciding to enroll in has some decent scholarship and financial aid opportunities to help you fund your education.
But, I would be remiss to leave out the importance of applying for outside (private organization) scholarships from this post!
These scholarships can be a great way to help supplement any of the aid that you receive from your school itself.
After that, take a look through my database of scholarships to find other opportunities that you might be a good fit for.
So with that, I think I have covered pretty much everything there is to know (on a somewhat high level) about studying in the US. Happy researching, applying, and attending!
At the time of this report conducted last April, undocumented students made up approximately 2% of all students enrolled in the US higher education system. By the numbers, this comes out to over 450,000 students.
Because undocumented and DACA students are not eligible to file the FAFSA or receive any sort of federal aid. Depending on your state of residence within the US, however, you may be able to secure in-state tuition rates or state-based financial aid.
accessing in-state tuition rates:
enrolling in any postsecondary public institution:
Ultimately, the amount of latitude varies from state to state in terms of how much assistance you can receive through being eligible for grants and other forms of financial aid.
One solution to attempt to make up for the lack of federal aid? Applying for scholarships. While applying for scholarships is a part of most students' financial plans, this is in some ways a crucial aspect of the paying-for-college plan for undocumented students for the reasons outlined above.
So, without further ado, here is my list of nearly thirty great scholarships for undocumented students!
Amount: up to $13,000
Deadline: January 8
Details: GSBA awards educational scholarships to LGBTQ and allied undergraduate and graduate students who are committed to making a difference in the world. Our scholarships range up to $13,000 annually and are meant to provide significant support as you pursue your educational goals.
Deadline: January 15
Details: Earnest believes in helping people realize their hopes and dreams through further education. To help more students get to school, they created the Earnest Scholarship as a way to award 50 students who best articulate how their education will enable their dreams.
There are no minimum GPA, residency, or major requirements to apply!
Deadline: January 30
Details: eQuality Scholarships for high school graduates recognize graduating high school seniors and recent graduates in northern and central California students for their service to the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community. Applicants must plan to attend or have begun attending an accredited post-secondary institution for the first time in the award year.
Deadline: January 31
Details: All currently enrolled college freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who are working to improve community health and wellness are eligible to apply. No minimum GPA, although 3.0 or higher is preferred.
Amount: up to $20,000
Deadline: February 4
Details: Ascend Educational Fund awards scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to immigrant students and children of immigrants who are graduating from a New York City high school to attend public or private colleges and universities, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status.
Deadline: February 19
Details: As a PCF scholar, you will be paired with a mentor through your college career, required to attend college and career workshops, and you will receive internship support. Minimum 2.8 GPA, must be a first-generation college student.
Deadline: February 20
Details: Three scholarships (one $10,000; two $5,000) will be awarded to graduating U.S. high school students who promoted vegetarianism (includes veganism) in their schools and/or communities.
Amount: up to $37,000
Deadline: February 25
Details: We think of our National Scholarship as the “Pell Grant” for highly motivated DREAMers with significant, unmet financial need. While we consider your GPA and test scores, we place great emphasis on your demonstrated commitment to community service and your ability to overcome the barriers and challenges that DREAMers face each and every day. Minimum 2.5 GPA.
Deadline: February 26
Details: The Red Thread Scholarship is available to college-bound women of international backgrounds who will be entering an American college or university in the coming fall.
Deadline: February 26
Details: Twenty (20) graduate and Ph.D. scholarship recipients will receive a trip to New York City, New York where they will participate in career building activities including a welcome dinner with a keynote speaker, three career & professional development workshops, and a scholarship & donor recognition reception. Must have a minimum of 3.2 GPA and MUST major in a field of study that has an emphasis in advertising, marketing, or public relations.
Deadline: February 28
Details: The Pursuit of Excellence scholarship program is a local program focused on high school seniors and community college transfers for whom additional funds can be the tipping point in allowing them to attend a four-year college. Scholarship recipients typically have challenging backgrounds and are determined to go to college.
Deadline: March 2
Details: The California Dream Act allows undocumented and nonresident students (U.S. Citizens and eligible non-citizens) who qualify for a non-resident exemption under Assembly Bill 540 (AB 540) to receive certain types of financial aid such as: private scholarships funded through public universities, state-administered financial aid, university grants, community college fee waivers, and Cal Grants. In addition, the California Dream Act, allows eligible students to pay in-state tuition at any public college in California.
Deadline: March 5
Details: The purpose of The McConnell Foundation Scholars Program is to identify and support students qualified to bring about positive change in their communities. Ideal candidates are high-achieving students, are among the first generation in their family to attend college, have overcome personal challenges, have positive influence on younger siblings or community members, and demonstrate commitment to the values of giving back and caring for others.
Deadline: March 6
Details: For graduating high school students of a school in the Sequoia Union High School District or East Side College Preparatory in East Palo Alto, Calif. Must have demonstrated activities or community involvement in social justice efforts that address immigrant issues. Minimum 2.5 GPA.
Deadline: March 19
Details: The Minority Fellows Program (MFP) is a fellowship competition for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds applying to or in the early stages of doctoral programs in political science. Eligibility requirements include being a member of African Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Latinos/as, American Indians or Alaska Natives, or Native Hawaiians community. Minimum 3.0 GPA.
Deadline: April 1
Details/Eligibility: Applicant must be born outside the U.S. or have two parents born outside the U.S; Applicant must be planning to enroll full-time at an accredited public college or university in the academic year the award is offered; Applicant must be either a graduating senior at a high school in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia or a recent GED grad residing in DC, Maryland or Virginia.
Deadline: April 15
Details: Must be a DREAMer with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. This is a video submission scholarship. Minimum 3.0 GPA to apply.
Deadline: April 20
Details: The applicant must be a high school senior on track to graduate or a college student enrolled in an accredited four-year university/college, or currently enrolled in a two-year college and planning to transfer to a four-year university/college upon completion. Current high school students in Georgia who are planning on attending college outside of Georgia may also apply.
Deadline: April 30
Details: Wize is offering a $1,000 cash scholarship in support of students amidst COVID-19. This scholarship is intended to support students financially through this time so they can continue to further their education. Any student currently enrolled (during the 2020 school year) in an American High School, College, or University may apply.
Deadline: July 20
Details: In recognition of the extraordinary potential of these students, we’ve created the MPOWER Global Citizen Scholarship. We’ve intentionally designed this scholarship program to be as broad as possible to match the broad, diverse experiences of international students. Scholarships awarded annually to international and DACA students enrolled at Universities MPOWER supports.
Deadline: July 20
Details: Scholarships awarded annually to female international/DACA students who are currently enrolled or accepted to study full-time in a STEM degree program at a program MPOWER supports in the United States or Canada.
Deadline: October 30
Details: The Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship Program is an undergraduate scholarship program available to high-achieving high school seniors with financial need who seek to attend and graduate from the nation’s best four-year colleges and universities. Minimum 3.5 GPA.
Deadline: November 30
Applicants must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as full-time undergraduate students, in an accredited four-year or two-year institution in the U.S. or U.S. territories, and demonstrate a verifiable need for financial support.
Amount: over $200,000
Deadline: mid-late September
Details: We are looking for high school seniors who have shown outstanding academic ability despite financial challenges. We take a holistic approach to reviewing applications, and we do not have absolute criteria or cut-offs for GPA, standardized test scores, income, or other factors.
The National College Match is open to all U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents OR students, regardless of citizenship, currently attending high school in the United States.
Full-ride scholarships are, without a doubt, every college student’s dream to receive. What is a full-ride scholarship? It’s a scholarship that generally covers most of, if not all, of your college expenses. Full-ride scholarships fall into a few different categories: ones that are merit-based, ones that are need-based (these two are both generally offered by the colleges/universities themselves), and ones from private organizations.
The fact that full-ride scholarships can cover not only tuition but also textbooks, room and board, and other expenses, is amazing. However, since these scholarships are so significant (and honestly life-changing), it also means that they are extremely difficult to win. They may be difficult, but it’s important to remember that they’re by no means impossible!
In this article, I will highlight some of the best full-ride scholarships (along with some that are hopefully less known - less well-known = higher chance of winning, right?) and even leave you with some tips on how you can put your best foot forward when applying for these types of scholarships.
Application deadline: January 20
Details: The Coolidge Scholarship is a full-ride scholarship that covers a student’s tuition, room, board, and expenses for four years of undergraduate study. The Coolidge may be used by recipients at any American university. Anyone of any background, pursuing any academic discipline of study, may apply to this non-partisan, need-blind, program.
Coolidge scholars must possess a distinguished academic record. Competitive candidates will have pursued and succeeded in the most rigorous course of study available to them. Like the president, Coolidge Scholars will engage in the pressing issues of their time. The Coolidge Scholarship seeks young people who display a sense of service and care for the well-being of others, as Coolidge himself placed a high value on Americans helping their own communities and fellow citizens.
Eligibility: Must be a current high school junior
Application deadline: January 31
Details: The USDA/1890 National Scholars Program was established in 1992 as part of the partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the 1890 Land-Grant Universities. The goal of the USDA/1890 National Scholars Program is to increase the number of minorities studying agriculture, food, natural resource sciences, and related disciplines.
Application deadline: January/February time
Details: If you’re an ambitious, analytical New York City high school student who is ready to get a head start on a career in financial services, then Smart Start is the program for you. You’ll gain real-world experience working in our industry-leading businesses, while attending university on a full four-year scholarship.
Eligibility: New York City high school student interested in business / financial services
Application deadline: September 10
Details: The Cameron Impact Scholarship is a four-year, full-tuition, merit-based undergraduate scholarship awarded annually to 10-15 exceptional high school students who have demonstrated excellence in academics, extracurricular activities, leadership, and community service.
The Cameron Impact Scholarship covers the full tuition, fees, and books at any accredited U.S.-based college or university that the recipient chooses to attend.
The applicant must:
Application deadline: September 15
Details: The Gates Scholarship (TGS) is a highly selective, last-dollar scholarship for outstanding, minority, high school seniors from low-income households. Each year, the scholarship is awarded to 300 of these student leaders, with the intent of helping them realize their maximum potential.
An ideal candidate will have:
Eligibility: To apply, students must be:
Additionally, a student must plan to enroll full-time, in a four-year degree program, at a US-accredited, not-for-profit, private, or public college or university.
Application deadline: mid-September
Details: “We are looking for high school seniors who have shown outstanding academic ability despite financial challenges. We take a holistic approach to reviewing applications, and we do not have absolute criteria or cut-offs for GPA, standardized test scores, income, or other factors.”
Finalists typically come from households earning less than $65,000 annually for a typical family of four and have minimal assets. This is not a strict cut-off and we encourage students who feel they have faced significant financial hardship to review these financial criteria carefully to see if they may qualify.
Eligibility: Must be a current high school senior
Application Deadline: Early October
Details: Flinn Scholars are articulate, fun-loving, and hard-working. They are generous, creative, curious—and imperfect. They have excelled in their high-school classrooms while maintaining purposeful involvement in extracurricular activities, whether in the arts or athletics, in laboratory research or community service. They have assumed leadership roles at school and beyond.
Eligibility: To be awarded the Flinn Scholarship, an applicant must:
Deadline: October 30
Details: The Cooke College Scholarship Program is an undergraduate scholarship program available to high-achieving high school seniors with financial need who seek to attend and graduate from the nation’s best four-year colleges and universities.
Each award is intended to cover a significant share of the student’s educational experience – including tuition, living expenses, books, and required fees. Awards vary by individual, based on the cost of tuition as well as other grants or scholarships they may receive. This highly competitive scholarship includes:
Eligibility: To be eligible to apply to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program you must:
Application Deadline: mid-October
Details: The special application requirement is a VIDEO. What should go into your video? Anything that helps explain your goal, why it’s important to you, and how you plan to achieve it. Get creative, show us what you’ve got, and have fun. Be you.
Videos will be judged on…
Eligibility: Must be between 18 and 24 years old.
Application deadline: December 1
Details: Act Six is a leadership and scholarship program that connects local faith-based community affiliates with faith- and social justice-based colleges to equip emerging urban and community leaders to engage the college campus and their communities at home.
To be eligible, a student must:
Deadline: December 1
Details: SMART is a scholarship-for-service program that provides full tuition and other financial benefits to individuals in exchange for a period of post-graduation civilian service in a DoD facility. Another benefit of the program comes in the form of internships that allow for broadly relevant hands-on research and work experiences in DoD facilities, thereby enhancing their educational experience. The SMART Scholarship Program represents a critical DoD investment in attracting the best and brightest of minds whose technical expertise will help execute the Department’s mission.
Eligibility: Individuals applying for this scholarship must be:
Application Deadline: December 14
Details: The Science Ambassador Scholarship is a full-ride scholarship for undergraduate women studying science, technology, engineering, or math, funded by Cards Against Humanity. To apply, applicants must submit a three-minute video explaining a scientific topic they’re passionate about.
Eligibility: The Science Ambassador Scholarship is open to female undergraduate students and high school seniors. All fields within science, technology, engineering, and math are eligible.
Open to international students! You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to apply. You do need to attend college (or plan to attend college) in the United States or a United States Territory.
Deadline: December 31
Details: The 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation, Inc. Partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to provide full-tuition scholarships and ongoing support to promising student leaders from “Matriculation to Graduation.”
Eligibility: To be considered, you must reside in the METROPOLITAN ATLANTA, Georgia AREA (surrounding Fulton County areas), have a minimum GPA of 2.8 and minimum ACT: 19 / SAT: 990 (Verbal & Math only), have the potential to be a leader in the classroom and on campus, and be available to attend all College Ready Prep Sessions in Atlanta (twice a month) if accepted.
Details: Pays full (100 percent) college tuition and authorized fees at any public or private institution with an Air Force ROTC detachment. Type 1 selectees will also receive a monthly living expense stipend and an annual book stipend. Applicants must pass a Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board (DODMERB) medical exam and complete a Physical Fitness Assessment.
Eligibility: SAT composite of 1240 or ACT composite of 26 and GPA of 3.0 or higher are also required for high school student applicants. Must be a current high school student. For college applicants, the Air Force ROTC Commander will determine the minimum GPA and test scores, if applicable, for scholarship eligibility.
Application deadline: Varies by location
Details: The Posse Scholars Program is a full-tuition scholarship offered to students in these 10 cities that the Posse community operates. High school students must be nominated for through their high school or community-based organization to be eligible.
To be eligible, a high school senior must:
Details: Microsoft awards tuition and conference scholarships each year to encourage students to further their learnings in Computer Science and related STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines. Recipients for the scholarship will be awarded in recognition of their demonstrated passion for technology, academic excellence, and leadership while working to push the software industry forward.
Eligibility: Must be enrolled full-time in a bachelor’s degree program at a four-year college or university in the United States, Canada, or Mexico at the time you submit the application.
While most top-ranked universities do not offer merit-based full-ride scholarships, luckily, some of them do! Be sure to look on each college or university's website for additional details on the full-ride scholarships that they offer and if you are eligible to apply.
1. Be realistic! The majority of full-ride scholarships are extremely competitive because of the amount of money that is awarded. So, don't plan to attend a certain college or plan your scholarship searching/applying around the hope that you will be the recipient of a full-ride scholarship.
2. Sure, applying to every full-ride scholarship that you are eligible for can't hurt you, but it is important to make sure that you are varying the types of scholarships you are applying for. Applying for a mix of small amount and bigger amount scholarships will leave you more likely to walk away with some cash.
3. Be ready for interviews. Most of these scholarships, as I stated, are extremely competitive. Therefore, the organization (or college) running the scholarship program likely will require an interview at some stage in the process to get to know you better. So, practice practice practice!
4. Be strategic with your letters of recommendation. While this goes for any scholarships you are applying for, it is especially important to consider this when applying for the big full-ride scholarships. Make sure you ask people who know you well, and can attest to all of your wonderful qualities and potential.
5. Get involved in your community. So many of the full-ride scholarships specify that leadership skills and experience, along with community outreach, are some of the most important and decisive factors in who wins and who doesn't. So, if you know early on in high school that you want to apply for some of these scholarships, be sure to find personally rewarding ways to get involved in your community as early as possible.
6. Choose courses that challenge you. If you are in high school, and you are applying to merit-based full-ride scholarships (aka, scholarships based on academics), then it is very likely that the judges will be determining winners based on the types of classes you have taken and how well you have performed in them. These scholarships often look for students who take on rigorous course loads and succeed in doing so.
Since we’re still out here celebrating financial aid February and all of its ~greatness~, I figured now is as good of a time as any to discuss all the ways you can pay for your higher education.
When I was in high school, if you asked me the difference between a scholarship and a loan, I could most likely tell you that. However, any more detailed talk of the various forms of financial aid/paying for school definitely got me confused.
Now, I want you all to learn from my mistakes! I think it is super important (and I want to ensure) that YOU are fully knowledgeable and aware of all the options and resources that you have at your disposal.
If you’re reading this and you are currently enrolled in college or grad school, you may be thinking, how is this even relevant to me if I’m already there?!
My answer for you is, learning more about the different ways you can fund your education is crucial, no matter what stage in the process you’re at. Maybe you’re a freshman or a sophomore in college, and you’ll learn something that might cause you to rethink your financial strategy going forward.
So, without further ado, here is my quick guide on all the ways you can pay for higher education, in the format of an emoji hierarchy! As a disclaimer, all of these methods and strategies for pay for school are very common, so despite the fact that I may list one as being higher than another in terms of my "emoji hierarchy", it by no means means that you should only focus on one and avoid another!
All the Ways You Can Pay for Higher Education:
Scholarships, a term which is interchangeable with grants, are awards that you can receive on the basis of merit (academic performance), financial need, or other components. Money that you earn from scholarships can be a “gamechanger” because that money does not ever need to be repaid. So, once you’ve earned it, it’s yours to put towards your education.
Thousands of private organizations and businesses (think: Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Google on a large scale) offer scholarship opportunities for students to apply for. Applying for private scholarships can be a great way to earn some extra cash to help you pay for school. These scholarships can range from a few hundred dollars to full-ride opportunities, so definitely don’t underestimate the potential earnings here.
If you’re just starting out in the scholarships world and you have little or no idea where to start, I recommend heading over to my search engine! Additionally, I have created tons of blog posts to highlight scholarships in different categories, such as no essay scholarships, STEM scholarships, and scholarships for women. Head to my blog to check out more posts like these!
If you’re in high school, then in addition to being considered for federal grants through the FAFSA process, you will also find out once you hear back from the colleges you’ve applied to about whether or not you have qualified for any of their specific scholarships.
College-specific scholarships often take into account your standardized test scores, grade point average, and other components of your academic performance. These scholarships can range from a few thousand dollars each year to $20,000+ per year (some students might even qualify for a full-ride!).
If you’re still in the process of looking at schools or even applying for college and you are trying to be as cost-efficient as possible (who isn’t?!) I recommend you do some research on the approximate costs of each school that you are interested in attending.
Each school likely has what’s called a net price calculator on their website somewhere (probably in the financial aid section) that will allow you to calculate a more accurate overall cost after scholarships and grants are subtracted from the equation.
Most US colleges and universities participate in what is called federal work-study programs. These programs provide part-time jobs (on and off campus) to both undergrads and grads who have financial need. The cool thing about federal work-study programs is that they encourage students to pursue part-time employment in an area that is related to their area of study.
You are guaranteed to earn at least the federal minimum wage in any job you hold, however, you can definitely be paid more depending on your experience and level of financial need.
Income from any part-time jobs or internships you might secure near campus or over the summer break will most likely not be enough to fully cover your college costs (especially due to the fact that college costs are rising to crazy high amounts these days).
However, it can certainly be a great help in covering some of the additional expenses that you will probably encounter during your time in school, such as textbooks, supplies, technology, etc. As a bonus, work experience can be a great way to help prepare you for the "real world" and give you a better idea of what you're interested in pursuing for a career!
Throughout my four years of college, I was able to make some extra cash mostly through summer internships, but I also had a part-time job at an event center one semester that was helpful for offsetting some of the costs for my following semester abroad.
If you’re interested in working a part-time job during the school year, I highly recommend you head over to your school’s online job board (most universities have them) and check out some of the options that might be open and available near you.
If you’re looking for internship opportunities, I suggest creating an account on LinkedIn (if you don’t have one already) and looking at the internships (summer, winter, and spring) that many companies have for students.
A great option for families to take advantage of when it comes to saving money for college is the 529 plan. 529 plans are beneficial because they “provide tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals for qualified education expenses, such as tuition, room, board, fees, and books”.
Despite all of their benefits, surveys show that back in 2017, only roughly 17% of students under the age of 18 had 529 plans. If you’re prepping for college and haven’t already had the financing college conversation with your family members or other relevant people, I suggest you do so ASAP, and ask them if you have a 529!
Even if you don’t have a 529 plan, family savings and income are a common method of paying some of the costs of college or graduate school. If you have the means to pay off any of your higher ed costs through yours or your family’s income, it is a better alternative to taking out loans that have to be repaid with interest.
Due to the unfortunate fact that any money you borrow through loans needs to be paid back (with interest), I have placed loans at the way bottom of the emoji hierarchy here. Despite their place in the hierarchy, loans are, for the majority of students, an essential piece of the paying for college puzzle, especially because not everyone can earn thousands of dollars through grants and scholarships!
To start, the federal government offers a few different student loan options. If you file the FAFSA (which you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD!!), you will probably find that your financial aid package will include loans that you are qualified to receive.
There are a few different types of federal loans, and to be honest, no one can outline them all better than the Student Aid website itself. So, head over to this page if you want to learn more about the different types of federal loans that are available.
The amount that you are eligible to receive through federal loans varies depending on your level of financial need, if you are going for your undergraduate or graduate degree, dependency status, and other factors.
When you take out money through federal loans, you do not need to start paying back the money you borrowed until you graduate or drop down to below part-time enrollment.
The other common form of loan that you might take out to help you pay for your higher education is private loans.
You should only really revert to applying for private student loans if you have maxed out in terms of what you are able to receive through federal loans and you still have outstanding college costs that cannot be covered through any of the other aforementioned methods.
One thing to note about private loans is that they often have fewer benefits for students than federal loans, which usually have lower interest rates and the possibility for student loan forgiveness down the line. So, if you have to go down the path of taking out loans, which is totally normal, consider federal loans before private.
Although it is not considered an actual method of paying for school, another strategy that is becoming increasingly popular (especially amid this pandemic) is students enrolling in community college for a year or two and later on transferring to a four-year college or university.
The benefits of doing this can be huge. Oftentimes at a traditional four-year college or university, the majority of your first and even second years can consist of those “gen-ed” classes that all students have to take.
If you are looking to be cost-conscious, the general consensus is that it really doesn’t matter if you take those general classes at a community college and later on transfer to a four-year college or university to finish out your degree. So, if you’re in high school and you’re worried about paying for your higher education, consider looking into this as an option for reducing some of those costs.
This “quick guide” ended up being longer than I intended but at the end of the day, I hope you have found it helpful in terms of highlighting all the ways you can pay for your higher education! Happy Financial Aid February, y’all!
Other blog posts/resources you might be interested in!