Paying for College: The Search for Outside Funds

January is a good time to plan ahead for education-related expenses in the coming months. Quest Scholar Alum Victoria Turner shares her first-hand experience finding the best outside funding options available for students. Make sure you check with your financial aid office to see how outside funds can be applied to your financial aid package. 

paying for collegeThe aid package you receive from the financial aid office can determine whether you attend a school. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than receiving an acceptance to a college you love when the accompanying aid letter doesn’t match what you need. Luckily, financial aid officers and organizations like QuestBridge work hard to fund you. If you’ve sent out your very best applications, just sit back and cross your fingers, toes, and any other crossable appendages while you wait for letters.

While you’re waiting, there are ways to chip off college costs through outside scholarships. Chances are you won’t find an outside scholarship that pays for your entire tuition except in special circumstances, but there is money to be made. Scholarships exist which pay for everything from travel to art classes to outright pocket money. College may be the only time in your life when you’ll be eligible for most of this money, so it’s worth your time to do the research.

First, let’s take a look at some of the terminology you may come across.

Scholarship: A scholarship is a sum of money which does not need to be repaid.

The key to sorting through scholarships is looking at the scholarship’s requirements. These requirements include both the factors which qualify applicants (“plays a musical instrument,” “demonstrates interest in lepidoptery”) as well as the stipulations which apply to the money’s use (“for purchase of textbooks”) and your end of the bargain (“must blog about the sponsor monthly for one year”).

Fellowship: A fellowship is a position that provides job experience and funding for specific career paths, such as international diplomacy or museum curatorship, or allocates funds to fellows to carry out a service project.

It’s important to note that certain fellowships limit their intake to younger students – college juniors, sophomores, or younger. For example, the INROADS program links college students with internships in business and industry and hopefully to hires after graduation. Keep an eye out for these limited intakes so you don’t miss an opportunity you’d love.

Prize/Award: Whereas scholarship implies funds that must be applied to your education, the term prize or award is more likely to signal free money.

Prizes are a check rather than an educational gift card. Of course, the terminology gets confusing when scholarships award prizes, but these keywords will help start your search.

Now that you know the terminology, it’s time to start your search. Try searching combinations of keywords that describe you or your goals. If you are a Quest Scholar, you might add “socioeconomic” as a keyword to pull up applications specific to lower-income students. Other common words for your search include future careers like doctor or dancer, regions like your county or state, and minority status such as ethnicity or first-generation student.

Outside scholarships I have been fortunate to receive include the Herb Alpert Foundation Scholarship, awarded through a high school summer program, and the Freeman-ASIA scholarship, which paid for a summer studying in Tokyo. I discovered both of these scholarships through word of mouth, but another Quest Scholar I talked to, Jenny Luong, found scholarships using the popular website Fastweb.

Fastweb and other aggregators are full of highly specialized scholarships, and patiently sifting through them will reveal applications perfectly suited to you. Jenny went on to win a CSO Scholarship, for which she blogged about the first-generation college experience, as well as an Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship. “One of my friends won grocery money,” she said. “Apply to everything.”

So whether you want to win $10,000 for designing prom outfits made of duct tape or $750 for your fine-grained knowledge of firs and pines from the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, start looking for that scholarship as unique and quirky as you.

Victoria Turner, Quest Scholar Alum, Amherst ’14