Accessing free money for school: what you need to know
By Celeste Coles
When it comes to planning for post-secondary education, money matters often top the list of concerns for students and their families. Approximately six out of every 10 students look to the variety of financial aid options that are available to help pay for things like tuition and textbooks, and to help make ends meet during the school year. These funds typically fall into one of two forms: a loan, which must eventually be repaid, or free money, like scholarships, bursaries and awards.
Free money might sound too good to be true, but it can be accessible with the right information and approach. In fact, Durham College (DC) distributed $2.9 million of non-repayable funding to approximately 2,080 students last year.
Keep reading to discover how students can access free money to maximize their resources and fine tune their financial plans.
Scholarships, bursaries and awards: the basics
The one thing they all have in common: students won’t need to repay them! Understanding the differences between the types of free money available can help students pinpoint which ones they should apply for, saving them time and frustration. The following are the three most common forms:
- Scholarships — based on academic merit.
- Bursaries — based on financial need, although sometimes other criteria exist.
- Awards — generally based on a combination of both financial need and academic merit.
Financial planning and career planning: working together
When it comes to free money, combining financial planning with career planning can really pay off. Students facing financial obstacles may want to give special consideration to programs that are connected to dedicated funds. For example, at DC there are over 30 programs eligible for the W. Garfield Weston Foundation awards, which offer qualifying students up to $10,000 over two years.
Students should work with their college’s financial aid office to explore all of the available application-based scholarships, bursaries and awards. They should also investigate institutional, external and government funds to ensure they are tapping into all the free money channels for which they are eligible.
Completing the applications: tips to give students a competitive edge
- Create an essay template that can be easily modified for each application.
- Prepare an accomplishment resume highlighting your strengths and giving concrete examples of why you are an eligible candidate.
- Follow the directions and be sure to include all of the requested information.
- Proofread applications before submitting. There is nothing less impressive than spelling and grammar errors.
- Meet the deadlines! Choose a deadline before the deadline to allow ample time for proofreading and having a fresh pair of eyes review applications.
- Use available resources, including the financial aid office. Have an expert review applications and provide valuable feedback before submission.
Navigating financial aid can be overwhelming, but students shouldn’t let that stop them from pursuing the free money that’s out there. Instead, they should take charge of their finances by booking an appointment to sit down with someone and review their plan.
Celeste Coles is a financial aid officer at DC and member of Team Experience – a group of students, employees and alumni who share their DC experience via social media, videos and blogs. Find more of her financial advice at: http://experience.durhamcollege.ca/author/celestecoles/.