How To Score Free Money for Your Higher Education

By Lindsay Irvin on Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Did you know there are people waiting to give you money for college? All you have to do is fill out a few forms! The State of Arkansas, the federal government, many local organizations and even departments at the college you’re eyeing — they all have scholarships, grants and programs just waiting for you to claim.


Why not? After all, it is called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Oh, and it’s your only shot for federal dollars like the Pell Grant, which offered up to $5,920 for 2017-18. The amount you get is based on financial need, cost of attendance and enrollment status. There’s also the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant for students with the most financial need and range from $100 to $4,000 per year. In either case, grant money you get is yours, free and clear.

Fill it out as soon after January 1 as possible, which means you’ll have to bug your parents to file their taxes ASAP since there’s a limited pool of grant and scholarship money and it’s first come, first serve. Remember, you’ll have to reapply every year for federal aid and some state scholarships, so take notes on the process and have any important documents handy so you’ll be good to go next year.

There’s only one way to find out. Stop looking for excuses and apply.

Online at


Academic Challenge Award Amounts 2017

Four-year School  
First year $1,000
Second year $4,000
Third year $4,000
Fourth year $5,000
Two-year School  
First year $1,000
Second year $3,000

Funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, the Academic Challenge Scholarship is available to students whether just graduating from high school, currently enrolled in college, enrolling in college for the first time or re-enrolling after a period of time out of college.

The scholarships are available for two-year and four-year college students.

The payout varies annually based on Arkansas Scholarship Lottery revenue, but has been as high as $5,000/year to as low as $1,000/year (for four-year college students).

Starting with the class of 2016, the only requirement is a 19 on the ACT or ACT equivalent score and a completed FAFSA application.

Annual application deadline: June 1



We need to be straight with you. Not all degrees are going to result in high-paying jobs. That’s OK, ‘cause we’re all about personal fulfillment, right? However, if you plan to take on loans for said degree, it’s good to research what your future salary will be and how long it will take to pay off your loans.

Junior Achievement’s mobile app JA Build Your Future can help. Explore future income in a desired career and compare the cost of higher education. You’ll be given a “Return on Investment” score between one and five.

Get the JA Build Your Future app at Google Play or download for iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets. There’s also an online version at


Go ahead and figure out if you’re eligible to receive 20 different scholarships by simply filling out the handy YOUniversal Scholarship application from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

No really. Do it!

You don’t have to wait until you’ve been accepted to a college or are a senior. As soon as you’ve taken the PLAN or PSAT, or even the real deal ACTs or SATs, visit the site (or use the handy dandy cell phone app) and plug in your GPA and test scores to see how many of the 20 government-funded scholarships you’re eligible for.

YOUniversal will even show you where you need to improve to get more money when you apply for the eligible scholarships in January of your senior year.

So, what are you waiting for? Register and search online here.

AID 101

Be on the lookout for these types of financial aid:

• Federal grants
• Federal direct loans
• Federal work study
• State grants
• Institutional grants
• External scholarships
• Private loans

And these are awarded based on two factors: Merit & Need

Merit–based: financial aid that is awarded to candidates based on the strength of their applications exclusively. GPA, ACT/SAT test scores, school and community involvement, and even athletic participation can factor into the decisions depending on what type of merit scholarship they’re applying for. Merit scholarships through a college or university can sometimes mean a reduction in tuition cost, while others pay out to the student and the student pay their tuition and assorted college expenses using the aid.

Be warned… Merit-based aid will be taken away if your academic standing falls short of certain requirements fall below a certain GPA

Need-based: financial aid that is awarded to candidates based on the family circumstance. Applicants interested in need-based aid complete an application with the school they’re interested in or an organization/company/government agency through which need-based aid is being offered. Students must also provide a W2 and a copy of their family’s most recent income tax documents.

Don’t forget… You can still apply for merit-based aid too! Take advantage of both, by keeping up your grades and apply for all the scholarships you can!

Q: “When should I get serious about applying for financial aid?”
A: Senior year. Aim to have all your applications sent in by the end of January in your second semester. Don’t wait till April; it’ll be too late.



There are lots of scholarships available for different students—like engineering or journalism department scholarships for engineering or journalism students. And there are some scholarships for different types of students—for different ethnicities, for students who are transferring in from another state or another college, and more. Some may be small (think $250, $500 and $1,000), but they add up! Since they’re free money, you should apply for as many as possible.

How to find them: Your guidance counselor will be able to point you in the direction of any local scholarships. Check out scholarships given by businesses, and ask your parents if their workplaces offer any financial aid for children of employees.

More places to look: Sites like,, and are all great places to look for more money. When you start looking at listings, make sure you’re checking out a reputable source. Real scholarship applications don’t have fees attached!


For a secure job that works around your academic schedule, try work-study. Federal work-study jobs are federally funded, part-time jobs, and the amount of dough you can earn from one depends on your financial need as determined by your FAFSA. If you are eligible, a school official will work with you to put together a schedule that fits your academic commitments. Work-study jobs can be found on campus, in public agencies and sometimes with nonprofit and for-profit private organizations, and you will earn at least federal minimum wage for your work. If this is something you’re interested in, don’t forget to choose the federal work-study option when filling out your FAFSA at And for more info,

Something similar…

Some colleges also offer institutional work-study jobs, which are on-campus, part-time jobs that are not federally funded and that are available for all students, regardless of financial need. These jobs are usually found in different campus departments or offices. Contact your school to see what options are available to you.


1. Begin at a community college. Tuition and fees at a two-year college are usually much less than at a traditional four-year school. According to College Board, the average annual price tag at a community college is $3,520. That’s nearly a third of the $9,650 average price tag for a year at a public four-year college. You’ll also save by avoiding room and board fees for two years.

2. Pursue an accelerated degree. If you have a particular degree in mind from day one, check with your school to see if it offers an accelerated degree program in your discipline. These programs can put you on a fast track to earning your degree and save you thousands of dollars. Bottom line: The less time spent earning your degree, the less money spent.

3. Become a resident assistant. Resident assistants, called RAs, are responsible for everything from mentoring younger students to managing conflicts between roommates. The job often comes with benefits like free housing, free or reduced meal plans, tuition discounts and free parking passes. Usually students must have completed a semester or two before they can apply to be an RA.

4. Join the military. There are plenty of military programs that offer financial support for your higher education dreams in exchange for a period of service. A number of scholarships are available for ROTC cadets and veterans too. As a bonus, many of these scholarships have benefits like monthly living allowances and money for textbooks.


Students who receive the Governor’s Scholars Award will receive $4,000 per year at any approved Arkansas college or university, and students who get the Governor’s Distinguished Scholars Award will receive up to $10,000 per year for tuition, mandatory fees and room and board.

 Want to get the Distinguished Scholars Award?

You gotta do ONE of these:

  • Score a 32 composite score on the ACT
  • Score a 1410 combined score on the SAT

AND ONE of these:

  • Have a 3.50 GPA or higher
  • Be selected as a National Achievement Finalist or National Merit Finalist

Annual Application deadline: February 1

If funding allows, up to 375 Governor's Distinguished Scholars may be named in Arkansas.


Maybe you’re one of those students who has known since birth you’d be a Razorback or purple Bear, or maybe you just made the decision on where to attend a little sooner than your fellow seniors. Either way, be sure to get busy applying for all the scholarships your college offers.

Alumni who made it big often give money back to the program they graduated from so younger generations can have the same opportunity. Put some feeling into the personal essay (if one is required) and maybe they’ll see something in you that they think is scholarship-worthy.

Depends. Often, applications are due the fall of your senior year. While sometimes, these scholarships can be found and applied for during college.

Head to the department of your future major and seek out its dean, or ask an admissions counselor or anyone in the financial aid office.