If you’re thinking about applying for scholarships to pay for at least part of your college tuition and expenses, you’re on the right track. As much as we hate to admit it, the days of working your way through college with a part-time job are long gone. According to CNN, the average student loan debt for graduating members of the class of 2012 in the United States was just under $30,000.

And that number hasn’t gotten any smaller in the last three years, either. Students graduating in 2015 can expect to owe at least this much, if not more. If you’re planning on pursuing graduate studies, you could be looking at up to $100,000 in debt by the time you leave college, and you have to start paying it back within just a few months of graduating, whether or not you’ve found a job in your field yet.

But you don’t have to graduate from college with crippling debt. If you spend a little bit of time and effort researching and applying for scholarships and/or grants now, you could get a partial or full ride for your college tuition and other expenses. When you’re awarded scholarship money, you never have to pay it back, so you don’t have to worry about incurring debt. If you weren’t thinking about how to apply for scholarships before, you probably are now, aren’t you?

What Kind of Scholarships Can You Apply For?

Now, you may be feeling a little lost right now. Scholarships don’t just grow on trees, and finding them can be a bit tricky if you don’t know where to look. Start by researching grants (which are usually need-based) and scholarships (which are usually merit-based) from:

  • The federal government or your local state government.
  • The colleges and universities you’re applying to.
  • Local and national community outreach organizations and non-profits.
  • Your employers and/or your parents’ employers.

Government-Funded Scholarships and Grants

Most scholarships, especially those funded by the government, will require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), so go ahead and do that before you proceed any further. Doing this will also let you know whether or not you qualify for one of the government’s need-based grants, such as a Pell grant or the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).

Scholarships Through Your Employer or Your Parents’ Employers

Once you’ve completed your FAFSA information, whether or not you are eligible for aid through the government, you can now move on to finding other funding opportunities. Don’t hesitate to reach out to local community groups and organizations, your parents’ employers, or your employers to ask if they have any scholarship programs that you can apply for.

Chic-Fil-A has donated over $34 million to its employees’ college funds over the years. In 2014, alone, the corporation awarded $1.75 million in scholarships. Starbucks has a college fund program, as well, and so do a lot of other companies that offer part-time job opportunities to high school students.

Some of these companies require you to be a full-time high school student intending to attend college directly after graduation, but others have programs to help fund continuing education for adults. If you are in high school and you don’t currently have a part-time job, you may want to look into working for a company that offers scholarship money to its employees.

Scholarships Funded by Your College or University

Visit, call, or email the financial aid offices of the schools you’re applying to. They can help you learn about scholarships funded by your school to help you pay for tuition and other expenses. These could be scholarships for outstanding academic achievement in your field of study, scholarships for women or minorities, athletic scholarships, and more.

Online Scholarship Searches

You can also do a lot of research very quickly when you do a scholarship search online. The US Department of Labor has a dedicated searchable database of scholarships to help you find funding opportunities that won’t saddle you with debt. There are thousands of scholarships out in the database and you won’t be eligible for all of them, so you can enter keywords that apply to you to narrow down your search.

There are other scholarship search engines online, as well, but be careful not to fall for a scholarship scam site. ScholarshipChart.com is a great resource for finding active and applicable scholarships.

However you should beware of sites that do the following:

  • Ask you for your social security number, credit card information, or any other personal information before you start searching.
  • Charge money and guarantees that you’ll get a scholarship or your money back.
  • Promise to do all of the work for you.

You won’t have to write an essay and get multiple letters of recommendation for every scholarship application, but you will have to do some work in filling out the application and gathering the required information.

How to Apply Online or By Mail

Once you’ve found a few scholarships you want to apply for, take note of the requirements for each, as well as their deadlines. If you notice that a deadline has passed, move on from this scholarship and focus your energy and efforts on other opportunities.

You can apply for a lot of scholarships online, and the databases we mentioned earlier all give descriptions of requirements and links to either apply online if possible or for requirements to apply by mail. Set up a schedule for your applications, and follow it closely, making sure that you finish your application before the deadline to give yourself some breathing room.

When you’re looking at how to apply for these scholarships, you’ll notice that almost all of them require you to fill out a FAFSA and send them your high school transcript, a personal statement, and at least one letter of recommendation. Get these materials together, and reuse them as much as possible (usually with a little bit of adjustment to your essays and personal statements, depending on the recipient). Keep everything together and organized, and you’ll have a streamlined process for scholarships applications!

Search and Apply for Scholarships on ScholarshipChart.com

ScholarshipChart.com helps students and parents search and apply for scholarships, grants, awards and other financial aid options to help pay for college. Whether you are a high school senior starting college or a single mom going back to school, you can find money for college through ScholarshipChart.com.