"A full ride"—magic words to anyone beating the bushes for scholarship money. But students who get an all-expenses-paid college experience are rare. Let's move on to a more realistic view of scholarships.
Myth #1: A scholarship can pay all your college costs. In fact, most scholarships, even athletic ones, pay only a fraction of your total college costs. Plus, scholarship money often can be used only for college-related expenses as calculated by the college—not for college-related extras, such as travel. Last, but not least, some scholarships renew from year to year, but many are good for one year only.
Myth #2: You have to be "an A student, baby." Actually, you don't have to be an A student to be eligible for scholarships. You do have to demonstrate qualities valued by the scholarship sponsor. That could be community service, artistic talent, leadership or another nonacademic quality. GPA minimums are often as low as 2.0.
Myth #3: My outstanding grades/scores/extracurriculars/performance will bring scholarships to me automatically. Face it, there are many, many outstanding students like you. These students are competing with you for scholarship dollars. True, the more you have going for you, the more you may be awarded, but that doesn't mean you should sit back and wait for the money to roll in. It won't do it by itself.
Myth #4: Millions of scholarships go unclaimed. Most "unclaimed" scholarships go unclaimed because of their strict eligibility rules, such as a certain last name, hometown, or employer. If you see this statement in an ad for a scholarship search service, don't fall for it. Instead, use a free scholarship search tool, such as CollegeData's Scholarship Finder.
Myth #5: I can wait until my senior year to start looking. It is never too soon to start investigating scholarships and preparing to apply. Deadlines fall throughout your junior and senior years. Plan way ahead, build your case and you may be well rewarded!
Myth #6: Only highly needy students get scholarships. Most private scholarships do not require financial information. They are awarded based on merit.
Myth #7: Scholarship applications are too much work for the results. It's true that scholarship applications can look time-consuming. However, the material you create for college applications, such as essays and résumés, can often be reused for your scholarship applications.
Myth #8: My scholarship money won't affect my financial aid, and if all the money adds up to more than college costs, I can pocket the extra. If a college has met your full financial need, federal rules require colleges to deduct scholarships from federal need-based financial aid they would otherwise give you. They may even reduce your gift aid. And some scholarships prohibit using the same expenses to qualify for different scholarships or other aid. Check the rules for each scholarship and each college very carefully.
Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.