According to collegedata.com, the average cost (including tuition, fees, room and board, and books and supplies) of the 2014-15 school year for an in-state resident at a public college was $20,089. Add another $11,000 for an out-of-state student, or double the original average for a private school.
Considering that a year’s wages working full-time on minimum wage in 2014 was $15,080, it’s easy to throw up your hands and decide that you can never afford a college education. But there is help available for almost everyone trying to go to school.
Your high school’s counselor or career center should be the first place you look. Their literal job is to find scholarships and help you apply for them. They usually know about the local scholarships, too, so you’re not competing nationally for a limited pool of money.
Don’t forget the businesses where you or your parents work, or any other local businesses. Many companies offer scholarships for employees or dependents–or just locals. You might have to go in person to check, or it might be on their website. If you do go in, dress as if you are going to a job interview.
Check your target school! Many colleges and universities have scholarships available for their students, though you’ll have much better luck with this if you’re considering a private school. Public colleges and universities have precious little to give. Even considering that huge check they want from you. Still, don’t be afraid to call the admissions office and ask.
And of course, take your search to the internet. Fastweb is a whole database of scholarship information, including an OKCupid-like engine for matching you up with your best bests. Chegg is another in the same vein. Do Something lets you trade volunteer efforts for tickets in their scholarship raffle. And there are so many more. (A caveat: Any site or company asking you to pay to apply for a chance at a scholarship is a scam. Run away.)
This last one should go without saying: look into using the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Fill this out in January and renew it every year. There is absolutely no reason not to do this one. Depending on your circumstances, it can get you loans or outright grants via the federal government. It does have a big downside–it bases your financial status on your parents’ income, assuming they’re paying your bills. If they aren’t, you will have to jump through a lot of hoops to prove that.
Don’t look at the numbers and give up hope! You have options.