The 12th Grader's Guide to Paying for College

You're finally a senior in high school. It often feels surreal at times, and this year will go by faster than you know it. At this age, you're on the precipice of adulthood. It's normal to have mixed feelings as you may be all-too-eager to graduate but still hesitant about moving on from all your friends. And as you have likely been told, it's never too early to think about college.

You've already gotten through the PSATs, you may have sent off some applications and now you're exploring your options for paying tuition. There are tons of scholarships out there, so as long as you're willing to search and apply, you should be able to get some award money to help lower your future student debt. If you're really lucky, you could even get enough scholarships to cover your entire degree or at least enough to make it payable out of your own pocket.

Start Looking for Scholarships Early

You can find college scholarships quickly and apply in under 30 minutes online with an easy online tool. The internet is filled with plenty of collections, databases and resources that make the application process as painless as possible. Pay close attention to application periods and deadlines and jot down the most important ones and plan for any that require you to submit essays. Take two or three weekends to focus on writing the best application letters possible, then tweak them to apply to more in the future. Having a solid template will save you time as you look for more scholarships in the future.

Read the Terms Carefully

Not all awards are made equal as each one comes with its own requirements related to acceptance. Some may have obligations you must fulfill in order to receive your funding such as participating in a certain program or maintaining a particular GPA. These are important details to understand, especially if you are applying to many different scholarships at once. When acceptance letters arrive, you have to fully understand how you need to fulfill your end of the award.

Don't Overlook Small Scholarships

You may have your eyes set on a partial or full ride, but don't count on them happening. With so many applicants, it's not possible for every student to receive that level of funding. That's not as bad as you might think, though. With so many small awards out there, you can apply to many and let them build up. Five $2,000 scholarships, for example, gives you $10,000 toward that year's tuition. College funding should be done in small steps rather than large swoops. It takes time to acquire the right aid, and you might even realize that you qualify for more after you've completed your freshman year. In the interim, apply to as many small awards as you can.

Talk to Your High School Counselor

You might not realize everything that counselors do, but your counselor is there to help guide you through the transition from high school to college. That includes helping you improve your grades and get the greatest opportunities for winning them. Make sure that you share your plans with them, and don't be afraid to pay them frequent visits. Remember, they're there to provide emotional support as well. It can be tiresome and, at times, overwhelming applying for so many scholarships. It's more than okay to reach out and share what you're going through.