Why the Scholarship Process Doesn't End After Your Freshman Year of College

Paying for college can be a difficult challenge as rising costs become more prevalent among most of the nation's learning institutions. The scholarship process will help students find financial aid beyond their freshman year.

Secure Ongoing Financial Aid for College

Some college students believe they only need to worry about financial aid the first year of school. But applying for federal aid and scholarships is something students should do each year they're in college.

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the first time is a rite of passage for prospective college students. This application makes individuals eligible for college money from the government, including Pell grants, Perkins loans, Stafford loans and work-study jobs. But completing the FAFSA is too often overlooked by second-, third- and fourth-year students. Many students also neglect to apply for scholarships after the first year of college.

One major reason many students miss out on excellent opportunities to affordably finance a college education is that they are under the mistaken impression that financial aid really only matters in the first year of college. Some others do not apply because they don't believe they qualify for aid. Still other students may not believe they're eligible for assistance beyond that awarded for the first year of college. But there are many reasons to apply for grants, loans and scholarships each year.

Access federal aid. Federal aid from the government is the most economical way to finance a college degree. Grants represent free money that doesn't have to be paid back, and federal loans offer the best interest rates and repayment terms. Receiving financial aid from the U.S. government requires filling out the FAFSA each year.

Take advantage of household economic changes. Some students neglect to apply for federal aid after not receiving any in the freshman year of college. But changes to a family's economic circumstances can significantly alter aid. For example, a sibling entering college can reduce the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and make school much more affordable. That's why filling out the FAFSA every year is so important.

Access new scholarship opportunities. Students typically apply for more scholarships before their first year of college than in years two, three and four. While a lot of scholarships are specifically devoted to freshmen, many others are exclusively available to sophomores, juniors and seniors. The applicant pool for these opportunities is often smaller than for first-year scholarships, improving the chance of securing awards.

Leverage your accomplishments and interests. Completing a year of college can dramatically improve students' scholarship prospects. Winning academic awards or participating in new activities (e.g. student government or debate) can qualify students for scholarships they were perhaps not previously eligible for.

Offset rising college costs. Tuition, fees, student housing, meal plans, books and other school expenses have been rising significantly in recent years, and they are likely to continue to go up. Students must work more during school and take out additional loans just to keep up with escalating costs. Securing grants and scholarships is one way to help cover the growing expense of going to college.

Get guidance for prioritizing student loan applications.

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