I stepped onto campus in 2003 as the first child to go to college on either side of my family. Leading up to that point, my parents had pushed me to apply to every college I was remotely interested in.
They also pushed me to apply to every scholarship that I could find. I did both of these, ended up being accepted to every school that I applied to, and ended up getting paid to go to school for my freshman year.
My number one tip for finding and winning scholarship? Avoid FASTweb like the plague!
FASTweb gets a lot of attention because they have over $3 BILLION in scholarships. They have a snazzy website, and are often featured in the press. However, for every one person I have encountered that has actually won a scholarship through FASTweb, I have met 50 who have not.
The concept behind FASTweb is excellent. You create a profile based on your unique skills, experiences, and credentials. FASTweb then matches this profile with its extensive database of scholarships to find ones that match your qualifications. They will then continually monitor their database for you, and email you updates as often as you would like.
This all sounds great until you actually get your first list of scholarships that FASTweb has determined you qualify for. For the purpose of research, I actually created an account on FASTweb with the information that I would use, if I were about to enter my senior year of high school.
My first scholarship: Vacancy dot com blog contest. They want me to write a blog post about my experience getting an apartment from their site. I’m a rising senior in high school. I still live with my parents. Fail.
Second scholarship: Womenetics Essay contest. Requirements? Be a woman. I clearly stated I was male in my profile. Fail.
Third scholarship: MonsterCollege sweepstakes. Requirements? Enter your contact information. The company will randomly select one $2000 winner per month (and sell your contact information to endless marketing agencies). Fail.
Final scholarship: Siemens Foundation Competition. This is a legitimate competition where you can win up to $100,000 in scholarship money by entering a math, science or technology project and competing against thousands of other student projects from across the country. For the time it would take to focus on this one scholarship and the infinitely small chance of success: Fail.
The main problem with using FASTweb is that all of the scholarships you find are either sketchy sounding websites offering “essay challenges” and sweepstakes, or large nation wide scholarship competitions with millions of applicants. The FASTweb marketing materials make winning a scholarship seem like something you can do on a whim.
There is no auto-pilot for winning scholarships. FASTweb has created the illusion that scholarships are rewards for little or no work, which is simply not true.
The Good News
Before you take me to the cleaners and call me a debbie downer, let me be clear. I work in college financial aid, so I have seen the frustration that countless students have had with trying to find scholarships on FASTweb. I have also seen the elation that students have when they actually DO win a scholarship. My purpose for writing this article is to show you the most effective way to search, apply for, and win scholarships!
My number one piece of advice for any student or parent interested in applying for scholarships: start searching local. Just like produce, local scholarships are the best (bad analogy I know, please forgive me). The two main benefits of local scholarships are that the applicant pool is exponentially smaller than any scholarship you would find through FASTweb, and a local scholarship granting organization likely has a personal relationship with your high school, or the in-state college you might be planning to attend.
For example, the town I graduated in had a club exclusively for graduates of the college I was planning to attend. They offered a scholarship and I applied. No brainer! My Dad had friends in the local Shriners club which provided scholarships to students from my high school. I had spoken to the local Ruritan Club for a high school project which created another scholarship opportunity. My Dad’s employer offered a scholarship to employee’s children. I applied and won.
You should apply for every local scholarship opportunity that you can put your hands on. The best source of local scholarships will be your high school guidance counselor. Most local organizations send their scholarship notices and applications directly to guidance offices. If you exhaust your own office, then ask around to other local high schools.
My senior year of high school I entered a local scholarship competition for the Carolina Tall Club. Requirements were that males be over 6’2. I wrote an essay about what being tall meant to me, and won $1000 after a round of interviews.
The possibilities are endless!
I would also suggest that you check out your local library. Local scholarship organizations often put up notices for their scholarships in the bulletin boards when you first enter the library. Your local librarian will be happy to help you search.
Scholarships do exist, and they can be won. It takes tenacity to apply for every scholarship you can find, and perseverance to see it through to the end.
The end result however, is free money for college; which is pretty awesome!
Have you had any success in searching for local scholarships?
Am I completely wrong about FASTweb?
Has our country really gotten so far in the hole that we are approaching 1 TRILLION in student loan debt?
According to finaid.org, apparently we have. The student loan debt clock above includes all federal and private outstanding student loan debt and is increasing at an astounding rate of $2,853.88 per second.
I have talked a lot about student loans in the past few weeks, but that is because they can be very poisonous to your financial health down the road, if not managed properly.
Here are some excellent ways that you can minimize your student loan debt and find free money for college.