For the past four years, college enrollment has been on the decline, and there may be a perfectly good reason. Parents know it, and students who are considering taking on mountains of student loan debt certainly know it — college tuition costs now border on ridiculous.
College enrollment dropped by almost half a million from 2012 to 2013, for the second year in a row, according to 2014 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey, which has been collecting enrollment data since 1966. Just a year later, in late 2015, The Hechinger Report confirmed that this trend had continued for the fourth year in a row, with enrollment at four-year, for-profit institutions decreasing by almost 14 percent.
While we could sit around and debate the reason for this enrollment decline until we’re blue in the face, it’s hard to argue with the fact that college tuitions have been rising faster than inflation. And as that old saying goes, when you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.
There is some good news, however, for college students with cold feet, who can’t imagine paying off student loans for the rest of their life. (And to parents who may consider taking on some or all of this debt to help out their kids, you can rest a bit easier too.) There are plenty of college scholarships available to offset these ever-increasing tuition costs, if you know where to look:
A traditional, straightforward but lesser-known way to get a scholarship is by applying for a Pell grant to attend community college. A Pell grant could fully cover tuition and fees for students from lower-income households, says Benjamin Glaser, features editor with DealNews. Called "one of America’s best-kept secrets" by Dr. Jill Biden, attending community college is a great, affordable way to earn college credits. You can then transfer to a four-year school. "Not only will you have less credits to complete — meaning less tuition — but you'll likely get better financial aid than if you'd gone straight to the four-year school,” Glaser explains.
You’re going to need your negotiating skills once you enter the workforce, and there’s no time like the present to start practicing. Jesse Harrison, now the CEO of Zeus Lawsuit Funding, says he’s no stranger to both the undergrad and grad scholarship hunt. Based on his experience as a scholarship recipient, Harrison recommends calling a school’s financial aid office directly to open up the conversation. “I know of someone who was offered a scholarship of $50,000 to attend law school, and he called and negotiated, and they doubled the scholarship. This negotiation works best if you're a top student. The reason a school would do this is that they want to raise their statistics,” he explains.
Within the realm of negotiation, Harrison also recommends being honest with a prospective college about your financial situation, particularly if a school is small. “A lot of times — and especially if you're a top student — the school will offer a scholarship if they know you're not attending due to money issues,” Harrison says.
If you really, really want to cut down on your tuition costs, it’s time to throw caution to the wind. Start by rethinking the bounds of a traditional scholarship and consider offbeat organizations that may also provide funding for school. “One of our writers found a scholarship available from an antiperspirant company for the best essay on sweating. Another rewarded aspiring puppeteers,” Glaser says.
Harrison agrees, saying, “There are many scholarships out there, some being on the weird side. For example, there is a scholarship for short students. If a student is under a certain height, they can apply. These add up, and you could possibly get a full ride to a good school just by applying to a number of these.”
While the many athletic scholarships available from four-year universities are no secret, most aspiring college students overlook the financial funding for the underdog. The Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship from the Western Golf Association, which hails from Golf, Illinois, has paid out more than $319 million in scholarships, which may include full college tuition and housing, to golf caddies with a strong record. "Each of our deserving scholars epitomizes what our program has been about since its creation in 1930. Their dedication, hard work and sacrifice [are] inspiring, and we are honored to be able to help them pursue their dreams. To apply for the scholarship, applicants must have caddied regularly for a minimum of two years and are expected to caddie and/or work at their sponsoring club during the summer after they apply for the scholarship," says David Robinson, Western Golf Association chairman.
Other standout hobbies and passions, like writing, painting and even video-gaming, could earn you a scholarship too. And there’s always the possibility of winning this year’s $500 Wholesale Halloween Costumes scholarship by writing the best two-sentence horror story.
For those in need of some extra tuition cushion, of course there’s an app for that. The Web and app platform Scholly was created to quickly match students with the scholarships they best qualify for. Of the app featured on Shark Tank, founder Christopher Gray says, "Scholly is unique in that it uses eight parameters to almost instantly match students to their most promising scholarship possibilities. The process as it existed when I was a high school senior was much different — so time consuming and intimidating that many students just gave up and didn't really pursue the wealth of funding that can help them not only achieve their dreams but also avoid crushing future loan debt."
Build your own scholarship, that is. Growing up in a generation that has gotten accustomed to crowdfunding, it would only make sense that cash-poor college students have figured out how to make their own way. FinanceU is a make-your-own scholarship platform that got its start, serendipitously, on KickStarter in 2015 when it was first created by Michael Lewis. Now struggling college students can use FinanceU to create their own personal crowdfunding page, where family, friends and even perfect strangers can contribute to their cost of education.
When all else fails, and you’ve beaten down all the doors to organizations that offer scholarships without any luck, there may be one more work-around to consider. While it is not technically a scholarship, says Glaser, a tuition-free school may provide a similar option. He explains, “Almost all require some work commitment, whether it is Berea College in Kentucky, where students work jobs on campus while attending, or the national service academies, where students serve in the armed forces afterwards.”
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