Imagine this: After spending 12 long years of education, it’s finally time to head to college. But hang on, because there’s a catch — tuition is much higher than you thought, and the school didn’t offer an academic scholarship.
One alternative for students can be to find a non-academic scholarship and keep pushing toward that dream. Here are tips on finding non-academic scholarships to help pay for a college education.
What Is a Non-Academic Scholarship?
Scholarships are one type of financial aid available to students that don’t need to be repaid and are typically awarded based on merit — that is, being especially knowledgeable or skilled in one area. Grants, which also do not need to be repaid, are typically awarded based on need and not based on academic or athletic merit. For example, Pell Grants are federal grants awarded to undergraduate students who exhibit exceptional financial need.
Scholarships can be awarded for many different reasons, including academic achievement. However, just because someone isn’t an A+ student doesn’t mean they can’t qualify for a scholarship. There are non-academic scholarships that are based on athletic or artistic achievement, community involvement, extracurricular activities, and more. Students may just need to put in a bit of legwork to find ones they qualify for and apply.
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Where to Find Non-Academic Scholarships
Often, the first step in getting a scholarship is to find it. Here are a few places to start your search.
School Counselor’s Office
High school students can check in with their high school counselor to see about any non-academic scholarship they may know about. The office may have a list of options available to students, and, because they may know the student, their skills, and their future aspirations, they may be able to hone in on the right scholarship for them.
School counselors may also have helpful information on navigating the financial aid process. One piece of the funding puzzle may be undergraduate loans if scholarships don’t cover all of the costs. Students may consider private student loans after exhausting federal aid, including federal student loans. This comprehensive private student loan guide dives into more detail.
College Admissions Website
If a high school student has already been accepted to school, they may check in with the college’s admission website. There, they could find a list of potential scholarships offered directly by the school. Students should also reach out directly to the admissions office or future academic counselors for assistance.
As the school year nears, you may consider checking in with your college’s financial aid office to see if they can guide you to unclaimed scholarships.
Scholarship Listing Websites
There are several scholarship search tools out there that roundup available scholarships to students, including destinations like FastWeb or CollegeBoard. Here, students can sift through hundreds of available scholarships and find help with the application process, as well.
Professional Associations and Clubs
Another place to find scholarships includes professional associations and clubs, such as churches, your parent’s employers, local businesses, minority groups, and more.
A quick Google search on professional organizations in your chosen field of study can lead to scholarships, too. Most are free to join and include fields such as marketing, engineering, graphic arts, law, and more.
Friends and Family
Sure, it may not seem as obvious, but merely asking around for scholarship opportunities can’t hurt. Students should reach out to their network and let everyone know they are on the hunt for financial assistance. Someone may know of a specific scholarship that could be the perfect fit for the student.
Connect With the Community
Explore connections with local religious groups, business, and other organizations. Having an existing connection can potentially improve an applicant’s chances of securing a scholarship. Plus, students may face less competition when they apply for more local scholarships.
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Types of Non-Academic Scholarships
Need a little help thinking about what type of non-academic scholarship may fit? Here are a few types of scholarship ideas to get students started.
Have a unique talent? There’s probably a scholarship available for it. For example, you can find scholarships for duck calling, dancing, drawing, and much more.
Each year, there are more than 180,000 athletic scholarships awarded to students. Scholarships are available for a wide variety of sports to both men and women, including volleyball, tennis, swimming & diving, skiing, lacrosse, golf, fencing, and more.
Students may also find non-academic scholarships based on their heritage. Students from minority groups may find additional opportunities, including scholarships for African American or Hispanic students.
Some scholarships may be available through churches, while others can be found on websites like College Board. There, students of various backgrounds can search for a suitable match.
Students can apply to non-academic scholarships based on their various interests, too. For example, those interested in cars can apply for the National Corvette Club scholarship. Those students that love to cook can apply for the AAC Culinary Scholarships for High School Seniors .
Know a student who spends their Sundays completing The New York Times crossword puzzle in pen? Have them apply to the Crossword Hobbyist Crossword Scholarship . No matter the interest, odds are there is a scholarship out there for it.
Area of Study
Future and current college students may be able to find a scholarship that suits their future area of study. Students hoping to become their own CEOs can apply for The National Association for the Self-Employed ’s Future Entrepreneur Scholarships, which helps promote “entrepreneurial thinking among aspiring business students.”
Again, if there’s an area of study, odds are there’s a scholarship available for it.
Students looking for a non-academic scholarship can search for regional scholarships on many online databases. SoFi runs a state-by-state grant and scholarship database, so you can take a look at what is available in your area.
Other sources for regional or location-based scholarships may include local nonprofits and businesses.
Other, Outlandish Options
There are scholarships available for less obvious reasons, too. One of the more famous wacky scholarships is the Stuck at the Prom Scholarship Contest sponsored by Duck brand duct tape. Each year, the company awards a $5,000 scholarship to a teen who designs and wears a dress or tuxedo made out of their duct tape.
How to Get a Non-Academic Scholarship
There are thousands of non-academic scholarships available each year. In order to get a non-academic scholarship, you should first look for scholarships in line with your talents and career interests. From there, you can look to local businesses, friends and family, and your community to find other non-academic scholarships.
And finally, do a Google search for non-academic scholarships you think you may qualify for. There are scholarships available for almost every type of person and every interest, including scholarships for minorities, scholarships for people who dance, religious scholarships, first-generation scholarships, and more.
Tips for Finding & Applying for Non-Academic Scholarships
If you’re hoping to find and apply for non-academic scholarships to help pay for college, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting one.
Starting your search early is one of the best things you can do to land a scholarship. Since many scholarships come from the school you’re attending, it’s recommended to fill out the FAFSAⓇ as soon as possible. Some grants and scholarships offered by schools are on a first-come, first-served basis.
It’s also a good idea to start your search early so you can make sure you can meet all the deadlines for the scholarships you hope to apply for. Many will require essays, and the sooner you know which scholarships you want to apply for, the sooner you can get your essays completed and submitted.
Read the Fine Print
Make sure to read the fine print of all scholarship applications. This will ensure you won’t miss any deadlines or important information regarding the scholarship.
Showcase Your Personality
When applying for scholarships and writing essays, it’s important to showcase your personality through your written word. Most non-academic scholarships are fun, so feel free to express yourself and make it so your application stands out from the rest.
Proofread Your Application
Proofreading your application is a great way to catch any grammar errors or application mistakes prior to submission. If it comes down to you and one other candidate, you don’t want to miss out because of easy grammatical errors you could have caught by simply proofreading your application beforehand.
Don’t Give Up
And finally, keep searching and applying for scholarships until you receive the amount of money you’re hoping for. Scholarships can be competitive, so don’t get down on yourself if you’re struggling to get one. Instead, keep the momentum going by continually searching and applying for new opportunities as they arise.
Non-academic scholarships can be awarded based on talent, skill, interest, and more. Some scholarships may even be regional or location based. To find non-academic scholarships, consult with your guidance counselor, your college’s financial aid office, local business and nonprofits, and online scholarship databases.
If scholarships and federal financial aid aren’t enough to cover college costs, private student loans can help fill in the gaps.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
SoFi Private Student Loans
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