The fast-rising cost of higher education may be halting many people’s learning and career goals. National Scholarship Month, that takes place every November, is aiming to change that.
Scholarships aren’t just for high school students
Educational debt is the fastest-growing debt category in America today, and as of 2020, the average borrower owes almost $38k in student loans. So it’s not surprising that many people are thinking twice before pursuing their further education and career goals.
It’s unfortunate, because the increasing demands of a fast-changing workforce are making it imperative for workers to reskill and upskill at unprecedented levels. Obtaining an additional degree or industry certification could be a power move for your career—enhancing your value to employers, your earning potential and maybe even your job satisfaction.
Though often overlooked by individuals already in the workforce, scholarships are one such way to complete your program without bankrupting your future. “Scholarships can bring significant financial relief to students who are looking for ways to bridge these funding gaps,” says Ayden Berkey, founder of the free online scholarship search and resource platform Access Scholarships. “By taking the time to learn about and apply for scholarships, students can reduce the financial burdens of school and graduate with less debt.”
Berkey, who offers free office hours by appointment each Friday and recently launched a free monthly webinar for students and families on various financial and higher-ed topics, believes that one of the largest barriers to students pursuing higher education is the expense of doing so. “Because of this, my primary mission is to provide access to scholarships and college resources to all students who want and need them,” she says.
The National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) reports that over the last ten years, the number of scholarships awarded has increased by over 45%. Yet an estimated $100 million in scholarship money still goes unawarded each year, mostly due to a lack of applicants.
As we enter National Scholarship Month this November, there’s never been a better time to raise awareness about the myriad of scholarship opportunities that are available for the applying.
Debunking scholarship myths
So this all sounds great, you think—but if I’m already in the workforce, do I really qualify for any of this free money? The answer is yes. The idea that scholarships are only available to high school students is one of the biggest misconceptions about this type of educational funding. Another myth is that scholarship applicants always need to be able to show a particular level of financial need in order to be considered.
The truth is that scholarships exist all across the board, including for students pursuing graduate degrees and technical certifications. Eligibility requirements also vary greatly, with opportunities existing on the basis of merit, need and everything in between.
So why don’t more people apply for scholarships? “The process of applying can be intimidating, time consuming and often filled with rejection,” says Berkey. She advises would-be applicants to ease into the experience, stay organized and try to get feedback on their rejected applications so they can submit stronger applications in future.
5 tips to fund your further education
For people who are considering taking the leap but aren’t sure if it’s financially feasible, here are five tips to help you navigate the process and come out with as little debt as possible.
1.) Pursue scholarships and fellowships. Because scholarships are free money, they should be sought out before loans.
2.) Look into your employer’s tuition-assistance or learning and development programs. Many companies are now offering at least partial tuition assistance or training opportunities for their workforce. I previously shared the story of Megan, who completed her bachelor’s degree debt-free while working as a welder and taking advantage of her employer’s tuition assistance program. You never know what’s possible until you ask.
3.) File the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a no-brainer for graduate students to fund further education. The NSPA estimates that during the 2018–19 school year alone, around $2.6 billion in Pell Grants was left unclaimed.
4.) Use net-price calculators before you commit. A net-price calculator compares tuition costs and other fees of schools you’re interested in. Often, there’s a significant difference between the school’s “sticker price” and your “net price.” Sticker price refers to the number that most schools list on their website and brochures (most students don’t pay the sticker price). Net price, on the other hand, is the number that you actually pay once scholarships, grants and financial aid are factored in. The difference between net price and sticker price is most notable at private universities (that tend to do more to meet students’ unmet financial need), whereas at public universities, net price can sometimes be closer to sticker price.
5.) If you must borrow, do your research. Not all student loans are created equal. Research loan options and compare for the best rates. In general, federal loans are still the best place to start, and your FAFSA is the first step in that direction. There are also decent private loans available if you need to borrow beyond your federal loans.
Despite the hefty price tag of most higher education, there are still ways to make it possible. The $100 million in scholarship funds left unclaimed every year is one of them. This November, celebrate National Scholarship Month by taking a look at the scholarship opportunities that could help further your career. It can’t hurt—and it might make all the difference in your education and career journey.