Below are first steps to take for scholarships, financial aid, and college cost planning. Please know that some scholarships have deadlines as early as late September. Therefore, I highly encourage students to contact their school counselors as early as possible to inquire about locally promoted scholarships and follow the steps I’ve outlined below to find scholarships they’re eligible for.


Find Free Money

Complete the steps below:

A. College Board Scholarships.

The College Board is now offering a chance to win scholarships between $500 and $40,000. Register and complete tasks like building your college list with their free tool to become eligible for one of the prize drawings. 

B. Find Third-Party Scholarships You’re Eligible For.

Use the Common App’s Scholar Snapp (which is integrated into the Common App itself), CollegeBoard’s Fund Finder, Chegg, Scholly and Unigo. Click here for other scholarship search engines.

C. Easy Micro-Scholarships (A Must). 

Visit RaiseMe and create an achievement profile. Starting as early as 9th grade, colleges you “follow” on RaiseMe will award you micro scholarships for your achievements, which you’ll be paid if you attend their institution.

*Note: college transfer students who are currently attending a 4 year university and intent to transfer to another 4 year university are not eligible for RaiseMe scholarships. However, transfers currently attending a U.S. community college are.

D. Discover Exclusive, Local Scholarships.

Ask your school counselor about any scholarships that members of your community offer to students at your school. These likely won’t be found on any websites, you may also have less competition for them.

E. Find College-Specific Scholarships Offered Officially by Each College

Google “[college name] scholarships” to find scholarships that alumni of your desired universities make available to accepted students who enroll. These will only be found on a college’s website. For example, here are scholarships offered at USC and UCLA.

F. Automatic Scholarships: 

Your college application might be (positively) flagged for merit scholarship consideration during the review process without any further work on your part. Sometimes, you may need to submit your application earlier by a certain  deadline to be considered. Check to see if your colleges have earlier deadlines for scholarship consideration that may not be the same as the regular decision deadlines. 

Other colleges, likely your safety schools, will still automatically consider you for scholarships as long as you apply by the regular deadline. The best way to maximize your chances for winning these kinds of scholarships are: getting high grades (even if you’re late to the academic game: substantial improvement still helps, as does investing extra care into your college application. Safety schools where your academics place you in the top 25% of their applicant pool will likely be the most generous.


Plan for College Costs 

A. Determine How Much College Will Actually Cost Your Family. 

Each college makes available a Net Cost Calculator. “Net” means the price you pay after every eligible discount is applied. Learn how to find and use them here.  

B. See Which Colleges are Need Blind. 

First, read this article that explains the difference between need aware vs need blind colleges and busts many myths surrounding both policies. It’s not uncommon for need aware colleges to admit and offer more financial aid to a student than a need blind college does.

This list shows which colleges are need blind for freshman applicants vs transfer applicants. If a school is not listed as need blind, it means they are need aware.

C. Do File the FAFSA and CSS Profiles When the Time Comes

The FAFSA and CSS Profile not only determine need-based aid but are often used to determine the amount of merit aid awarded to a student via scholarships, athletics, etc. Even if you feel your income is too high to qualify for need-based aid, most colleges will still require you to file the FAFSA and CSS Profiles before a student will be considered for any merit aid from the university. 

D. Colleges May Require You to File the FAFSA for Merit Based Scholarships

Read: 5 Reasons Wealthy Students Should Apply for Financial Aid (including whether filing a FAFSA will hurt your chances of admission)

Also: Why Colleges May Require the FAFSA For Merit Based Aid

D. Read this article about financial aid: 

Click here to read about the top financial aid tips your family should know

E. Explore Money-Management Strategies That Affect Your EFC

Be weary of paid college financial advisors. Many of them advise families to lock their assets into retirement accounts (which lowers your EFC but locks up your funds, affecting your ability to use those funds for your other competing, and more immediate, priorities). That’s not a smart trade-off for most parents who aren’t nearing the age of retirement. The main person who benefits from this sort of advising is the financial advisor, himself or herself, who earns commission on the opening of retirement accounts.

Preparing for your EFC with the right plan can make a big difference. Visit College Zoom families get a free college financial planning talk with a former College Zoom student, Cris, who works as a wealth manager at a publicly traded bank. Note: Cris is doing this as a way to help families become financially literate and give back, so to speak, as College Zoom helped Cris get accepted to his dream MBA program (USC Marshall with the Dean’s Scholarship, which is practically covers his entire cost of attendance). 

He’s graciously offered to provide free a 1-on-1 EFC planning strategy session (with actual personalized advice) for any College Zoom family and I highly recommend taking him up on the offer.

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