College is expensive, and student loans are not a good solution by any means. That's where scholarships can come in really handy. Here's a guest post from Pyper Barnes who is a current college student and runs a unique website named WeirdScholarships.net where you can find all kinds of unusual scholarship opportunities.
Student Loan Debt is a Huge Problem
Simply put, college is expensive. In fact, it's incredibly expensive. So expensive that this year 7 out of 10 college graduates now have student loan debt. Keeping up with the rising costs of higher education is difficult to say the least. College savings accounts and under the mattress money can’t keep up with tuition spikes, fees, and those crazy overpriced on-campus meal plans. As a result, the problem is getting worse. The class of 2015 is leaving campus with a degree in one hand as well as more student loan debt than any class in history.
As a current college student, I am all too familiar with high tuition bills and student loan debt. Student loans are an easy and quick option for most college students. In fact, every college student is eligible to receive some amount of federal student loan funding. So if you have a creditworthy parent, private student loans are just an application away. I myself took out student loans to fund my education at the University of Alabama. For me, student loans weren’t a choice, my loans were a necessity. After a series of financial letdowns, my parents weren’t in a great position to help me financially.
Scholarships Can Be a Huge Help
After using student loans during my sophomore year at college, I was determined to avoid any more debt. Compounded interest isn’t fun to think about. I set my sights on paying my tuition bill through scholarships. Scholarships are a huge piece of the higher education puzzle. Unlike student loans, scholarship awards do not need to be paid back.
As you may know, the majority of scholarship funding comes directly from the institution itself through merit scholarships. Merit scholarships are usually given as a way to attract academically gifted students to campus. Finding non-merit based scholarships is tough due to the sheer level of competition in the market. According to Google, scholarships is searched for for 301,000 times each month.
Weird Scholarships Can Help
With only a limited number of scholarship dollars available, and millions of college students, scholarship awards are far from certain. Consequently, that quick Google search for “scholarships” will bring a lot of spam and competitive scholarships to the first page. Winning one of these awards is about as likely as winning mega-million. Seriously. So where did I look for scholarships? Not on the first page of Google’s search results. Therefore if you want to find less competitive scholarship opportunities you need to get creative.
You need to look for weird scholarship opportunities. Are you left-handed? Are you a single mother? Transfer student? Do you wear glasses? While I am not left-handed, a single mother, a transfer student, or wear glasses, you get the point.
It may sound like I’m kidding, but I can promise that there are hundreds of odd ball scholarship opportunities available. And guess what, the level of competition for these scholarships is a fraction of popular scholarships. Smaller scholarships have smaller awards but you will have a much greater shot of at least getting an award.
Applying for Weird Scholarships
Applying for scholarships can seem like a full-time job at first. But after a few applications you will be able to reuse the same applications over and over again. Most of all, you should understand if you spend 100 hours applying for scholarships only to be awarded $2,000, well you’ve just made $20 an hour! I was able to avoid more student loan by funding my cost of attendance through odd ball scholarship awards. I was able to piece together a hand full of eclectic scholarship awards.
Hey, Jason here: By the way, you might want to check out a great resource I recommend for avoiding student loan debt and paying cash for college. It's titled “Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents” by Zac Bissonnette
WeirdScholarships.net Can Help
This summer I created a website called WeirdScholarships.net. As you might expect, my website is dedicated to cataloging and presenting unique scholarships from across the internet. So after my personal scholarship campaign, I kept a catalog of scholarship opportunities I came across. On WeirdScholarships.net I am sharing my catalog for free. No ads, spam, scams, no account required. 100% free.
WeirdScholarships.net is just a project right now. I was inspired to create WeirdScholarships.net because I wanted to help my classmates avoid crushing student loan debt. If my website can help just one student avoid student loans, I will be more than happy with the time spent on this project. Since launching in May, I’ve created and added about 50 scholarship guides in addition to my giant list of 101 weird scholarship opportunities.
If you have some time this summer, check it out and see if you can find any good matches.
Tips for Getting Started
I encourage you to set up an account on Google Drive or one of the other cloud storage services on the internet. Signing up for these accounts is free and will allow you to keep your scholarship campaign organized. I like Google Drive because you can directly work with Google Docs and Google Sheets. Moreover, you can keep everything cataloged and organized in one place. After 20 applications things will start to get cluttered and a bit overwhelming. Therefore, staying organized from the start will save you time down the road.
Save Your Applications
Make sure to save hard copies of your applications for the future. As I mentioned above, there is a lot of crossover between scholarship applications and essays. Therefore, by saving your application responses you will definitely be able to save yourself time on future applications.
Find Your Niche
Start by thinking about yourself. What are you good at? Is there something you want to be good at? What are you studying? Why do you need a scholarship?
Identifying the correct scholarships to apply for is the key to winning an award. So the better the fit for a particular scholarship, the better your odds. On WeirdScholarships.net I have a catalog for everything you can think of. I even have a borrowed scholarship search which can help you find some targeted opportunities.
Too many students stop looking for scholarships after they enter college. For some reason students believe you can only get scholarships as a freshman. This is simply wrong. You can get scholarships throughout your college career. In fact, there are a number of scholarships for upperclassmen only. Keep applying even after you’ve acquired your taste for cheap beer and vodka.
Don’t Give Up
In conclusion, applying for scholarships can be boring and you might feel like it is all worthless. I can promise you that applying for scholarships will be boring. So try listening to music or even watching television to make a process less painful. Spotify has a student discount. You can get a monthly Spotify subscription for only $5 a month if you are a college student. I kept my sanity through music.
I can promise you it won’t all be worthless. So keep your head down and your blinkers on.
Pyper Barnes is a Junior at the University of Alabama. Pyper created Weird Scholarships to help college students avoid student loan debt though lesser known scholarship opportunities. WeirdScholarships.net was created in May 2015 and is updated at least once a week.