Son hugging mom at college drop-off

As we have seen with the rollout issues of the new FAFSA for the 2024-2025 academic year, it is incredibly important to make sure your student takes advantage of all the free money available for their education after high school. Scholarships are free money for their higher education and do not have to be repaid, unlike student loans. This summer is a great time to search for those free funds that can support their education without any cost for your family. Scholarships can also help stretch the savings in your Ohio 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage, account as far as possible.  

According to the 2023 “ How America Pays For College” study by Sallie Mae, families use a combination of scholarships and grants to pay for up to 29% of educational expenses. In 2023, 61% of families used scholarships to cover costs at their institutions of higher education. These families received scholarships from the school, state, and non-profits and other organizations. According to the study, the average dollar amount from scholarships reported by families in 2023 increased by $1,781. These numbers show how scholarships can be a critical part of your game plan to cover your child’s college education.

Why start the scholarship search early

Why is it important for your student to start their scholarship search at least a year before they start their higher education? Some scholarships have deadlines that are at least a year out from when these free funds would be released to a school. So, if your student would like to compete for these scholarships to use their first year of college, they may need to fill out the application the summer prior to their senior year of high school.

It will take time for your student to research and find all the available scholarships for which they qualify. It will also take a good amount of time for your student to fill out the scholarship applications and write the necessary essays.

And even if your child is going to college this fall, there’s still time to earn scholarship money this summer for use in 2024-2025, or for 2025-2026.

Before starting the scholarship search

By the time your student is in high school they should be pursuing different extracurriculars, like school organizations, sports, and volunteer activities. This can help them a more well-rounded candidate to colleges and scholarship organizations. 

What is your student passionate about? This could lead to volunteering opportunities to add to their scholarship applications and may even inspire their choice of what to study after high school. Are there any clubs they participate in after school or are they part of a sports team? Do they work a part-time job to add to their college savings? These activities not only show off your student’s academic abilities, but they also show that your student can balance responsibilities with good time management skills. And these organizations may also offer scholarships for individuals who have worked or volunteered there.

As a parent, you can check with your employer’s HR department to see if they offer any scholarships as well.

How to get going on the scholarship search

Start your scholarship search by visiting Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. This is the federal agency for which they will complete the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will determine how much federal financial aid your student receives. The agency also offer guidance on scholarships and Pell Grants, as well as sources to tap for more information, including the free scholarship search tool from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Also, check the schools and institutions where your child wants to continue their education or career training after high school. They can point you to other resources like federal agencies, state agencies, work study, and scholarships at the school.

Visit high school counselors for your search

An appointment with your student’s high school counselor is also a good step. Counselors have access to resources and scholarship tools to point you and your student in the right direction. Counselors also can offer guidance on scholarship essays, and help your child prepare for any scholarship interviews. They can also assist your students in identifying teachers to ask for recommendation letters to strengthen their applications.

Free scholarship websites to search

After seeing what resources the guidance counselor can offer, it’s time for your student to search the web. There are many free online scholarship sites to research like Sallie MaeFinAid, and FastWebto name a few. On these sites, your child will create a profile with their academic scores, community, or volunteer service, athletic or academic activities. After supplying that information, students will be matched with scholarship applications for which they are eligible. 

Sallie Mae also offers the Paying For College Resource. The website assembles free tools, videos, and checklists to follow as you all prepare for your children’s higher education. It even shows what steps to take to fill out FAFSA and how to understand your financial aid letters. There’s even a monthly $2,000 scholarship for which your child can register for and they don’t even have to write an essay.

FinAid also created a list for the more unusual scholarships that are available.

As mentioned above, your student should check with any the business where they works and any organizations with which they volunteer for any scholarships.

Free Ohio scholarship websites to search

The State Of Ohio also wants to help you search for scholarships. Once your child fills in the online form, the site will match them to over 1.5 million scholarships in Ohio’s database.

Additionally, the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) offers to connect you to multiple scholarships and grants available throughout the state. As the ODHE website states, some financial aid will be decided based on students’ “areas of study (such as teaching, science, engineering, technology, math and medicine), academic merit, financial need, military status, and more.”

To see if there are any local scholarships, do an online search for scholarships offered in your area. Some scholarships are given to a local student in someone’s memory with the same education plans. Also, local businesses could also offer scholarships for students who want to study in a specific area of study or in a certain vocation or technical skill. Local service organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs also offer scholarships. Also, check to see if the business where your student works or any organization at which they volunteer offers scholarships.

Cities and schools can also offer financial aid through scholarships. For instance, the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarships help Cleveland Metropolitan School District graduates can pay for college tuition to attend college, university, or accredited training program. With The Columbus Promise, Columbus City School (CCS) District graduates can take six semesters of classes for free at Columbus State Community College. The CCS students will also receive a $500 scholarship per semester. For students in the greater Cincinnati area, look to the Cincinnati Scholarship Foundation to find available area scholarships in that part of the state.

As local and statewide scholarships draw from a smaller pool of applicants, there may be less competition and therefore, better odds of receiving these scholarships.

Be sure to apply for small dollar scholarships. If your student earns several of these, their scholarship total will grow. There may also be fewer applicants for these scholarships so your student’s application may stand out in a smaller crowd. 

Remember, you should not have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship. If an organization asks for a fee or credit card number, do not share that information with them and continue your scholarship search elsewhere.

Save with Ohio’s 529 Plan

Well before your child starts their scholarship search, you can help them save for the future with Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage. Ohio’s 529 Plan offers tax-free earnings, tax-free withdrawals for qualified costs, and a state income tax deduction for Ohioans who contribute to Ohio’s 529 Plan.

Since 1989, Ohio’s 529 Plan has been helping families across the nation save for their children’s education. Ohio’s 529 Plan covers qualified costs at any four-year college or university, two-year community college, trade or vocational school, apprenticeship approved by the U.S. Labor Department, or certificate program nationwide that accepts federal financial aid. Learn, plan, and start for as little as $25 today at CollegeAdvantage.

This article was originally posted in August 2019 and has been updated to reflect current information for 2024.


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