With the skyrocketing costs of college tuition, it’s no wonder people are looking for funding assistance with their education. Student loans may have lower interest rates than car loans or credit cards, but they still saddle you with debt the minute you graduate and walk out into the real world.

To avoid debt and get the education you want, you’re going to need a scholarship or grant, and many students are taking this route by applying for scholarships. However, a lot people are so intimidated by the whole process of finding alternative financial aid that they don’t even bother to apply.

Don’t be intimidated. Take a moment and read through these frequently asked scholarship questions. You might be surprised to find out that you have a great chance of gaining scholarship money and that the whole process doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming.

What’s the Difference Between a Scholarship and a Grant?

Grants are usually government funded, and they are awarded based on financial need. They may also have some other restrictions, including race, age, or location. Scholarships, on the other hand, are almost always merit-based and are awarded for academic or leadership achievements. Requirements and eligibility vary, depending on the particular grant or scholarship.

Who Qualifies for Grants?

If you are an independent student and can prove that you have financial need or if you are a dependent student and can prove that your parents have financial need, you may qualify for a government or private grant. Government grants (like Pell grants and FSEOG) are awarded through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Who Qualifies for Scholarships?

Eligibility for scholarships varies a great deal. Some scholarships require you to have a minimum GPA, while others require you to have worked a certain minimum number of hours at a specific company. Still others only ask for an essay showing your dedication to a certain subject, along with a letter of recommendation from one of your mentors.

Almost any student can qualify for a scholarship; you just have to find the right one for you, your needs, and your abilities.

Where Should I Look for Scholarships?

You can find databases online of scholarships at:

You should also reach out to your college or university’s financial aid office, your high school’s guidance counselor, and businesses and organizations in your community. It never hurts to ask if they have scholarship programs that you might be eligible for.

When Should I Apply for Scholarships?

As soon as you find a scholarship that you’re eligible for, make a note of its deadline and start your application process immediately. The sooner you complete and send your application, the better. However, you should never send an application if you are not sure that it is free of typos and other mistakes. Set a schedule for completing your application ASAP, and then work diligently to get everything in order and send it before deadline.

Is Filling Out FAFSA Mandatory?

FAFSA is not necessarily mandatory for all scholarships or grants. However, you’ll need the same information for these applications as for your FAFSA. Filling out FAFSA sends your financial aid information to your college and opens up a lot of financial aid doors for you. It is also a requirement for a number of privately funded scholarships and grants.

Do I Need to Fill Out FAFSA Every Year?

Yes, in order to be eligible for any government grants or other federal financial aid, you must renew your FAFSA each year. The form is available starting in January and is due by June for fall semester classes. Fortunately, renewing the application does not involve as much information gathering as filling out the form the first time. Your old information will be saved, and you’ll be able to just update your tax and income info online each year.

Who Should I Ask for Recommendation Letters?

Your letter(s) of recommendation can make or break your application. We usually recommend that you ask your guidance counselor, principal, or one of your teachers. You may also want to ask your supervisor if you have a job or a mentor you’ve worked with.

If you have experience volunteering or working with any charity organizations, you can ask one of the organizers you worked with for a recommendation letter. Whomever you ask, make sure that you have a personal relationship with them and that they can speak to your work ethic, dedication, leadership skills, academic achievements, and/or goals for the future.

Do I Need to Write a Scholarship Essay?

Some scholarships don’t require essays. Others require alternatives to the traditional personal statement or essay. For example, some require a video, and there are even scholarships that ask for things like a 3-sentence essay with a maximum character count of 280.

If your scholarship requires you to write an essay, you will not be eligible for consideration if you don’t write one. If it does not require an essay, writing one may still be a good idea. Talk to your guidance counselor about specific scholarship applications and whether or not you should include personal statements.

My GPA Doesn’t Quite Meet the Scholarship’s Requirements. Should I Apply Anyway?

Do not make this mistake. If you don’t meet the requirements for eligibility for a scholarship, don’t waste your time or energy on it. When they receive applications, organizations that award scholarships look first at requirements and will not even consider someone who doesn’t meet them. Even if your GPA is a 3.4, and the minimum is a 3.5, don’t apply for this scholarship.

On that note, do not apply for any scholarship or grant if you have doubts about your eligibility. If you are unsure but would like to apply, send the organizers an email or give them a call. Once you have your answer, you can apply if you are eligible but move on to another opportunity if you are not.

See? Scholarship applications are actually not that scary. With a little bit of time and effort, you could pay for your college education without all of the debt that your friends and colleagues are collecting.

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.