Looking for Extra Cash for College? Ways Students Can Earn Scholarships

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Yes, the economy is improving. Yes, there are more businesses hiring workers. And yes, graduating college students are finding work. But that doesn't mean high school graduates or individuals looking to go back to college have thousands of dollars lying around to pay for school.

Although times are better now than they were five years ago, colleges and universities continue raising tuition costs. According to Bloomberg, tuition and fees for public institutions rose 4.8 percent in 2012, to an average of $8,655 per academic year. Nonprofit private colleges didn't increase as much — 4.2 percent, but now average $29,056 per year; or around $116,244 for a four-year degree.

Scholarships are fast becoming near necessities for those looking to continue their educations beyond secondary school.

Fill Out Your FAFSA

More than 1.5 million private college scholarships totaling $3.5 billion are awarded to students every year, according to CBS Money Watch. You won't be able to take advantage of these opportunities without filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A Student Aid Report (SAR) is then generated and sent to you and all colleges you listed as places you will potentially attend. The reports determine how much your family contribution must be, and how much in federal grants and loans you qualify for.

Scholarship opportunities will depend on the school you plan to attend and what it has to offer. There are also scholarships available regardless of the school you attend, but these will require a little more effort to obtain.

Religious Scholarships

Although there are plenty of Christian scholarships out there it be might more difficult to find them for specific denominations (e.g. catholic scholarship opportunities). Perhaps you want to enter a seminary school or study theology. Maybe you come from a missionary background and have done missionary work every summer for 10 years. Perhaps you just identify as being Christian. In any case, there are scholarships out there for you. 

Athletic Scholarships

The best-of-the-best high school athletes will have the opportunity to earn full-ride scholarships to several college and universities that recruit them. But only about 20,000 students per year earn complete full-rides from sports or academics, according to a CBS News report citing author Mark Kantrowitz. Athletes can walk-on to their respective college teams and earn partial or full scholarships based on performance. Coaches generally welcome walk-ons to increase competition and it gives the student a chance to continue playing a sport they love.

Merit Scholarships

Students who excel in academics are also eligible for financial assistance. Exceptional SAT/ACT scores, a high grade point average, or being in the top 5 percent of your graduating class can potentially earn you a substantial sum of funds. These scholarships, however, are just as competitive as their athletic counterparts. By completing honors classes, students not only gain great study habits and the tools necessary to succeed in college, but can also be the tiebreaker between you and someone else receiving the funds. Students in the National Honor Society (NHS) are eligible to be nominated for dozens of scholarships. Awards range from $1,000 to $13,000.

Whether you're an all-star athlete, a whiz with numbers or volunteer your time to the community, earning a scholarship is a sure-fire way to continue your higher education.

Article by:  Julie Delgado - Julie is a writer and high school English teacher from New York.