Stretching Your Scholarship Dollars

By Nichole Singleton and Lindsay Irvin on Friday, April 5, 2024

Transitioning into higher education after receiving your high school diploma can bring on a mix of emotions ranging from excitement to nervousness and rewarding to overwhelming. Though the more time you invest in prepping for college the easier the transition.

Selecting the schools, majors and programs you’re interested in are equally important, but so is determining how to pay for school. There are several financial avenues you can take to help with this such as scholarships, grants and loans, but students sometimes overlook how to get the most out of their financial aid dollars.

How to Get as Much Financial Aid as Possible

Apply for financial aid. See what you’re eligible for. How much more do you need beyond the aid you got?

Apply for grants available for first-generation college students, women, diverse students, single mothers and more.

Go after as many scholarships as possible. Be relentless. Consider it a part-time job—you’re putting in the work to get paid (like a job).

• Local, national, corporate, ethnic, hobby-related, religious and more out there for grabs.

• Apply for less-competitive scholarships with smaller awards ($500 scholarships add up fast!).

• The more work required to apply means fewer people will apply—better odds for you!

• Find scholarships set aside for students with unique interests (Are there any that fit yours?).

Keep applying for scholarships during college, especially awards given to students following specific degree paths.

Choose a college or university that offers a lot of financial aid to its students. For example, more than 90% of students enrolled at Harding University in Searcy receive financial aid.

Join everything! Volunteering, activism and internships can help pave the way to scholarships. Try…

• Student leaderships roles

• Internships and job shadows

• Part-time jobs (find something where your experience will help you reach your career goals).

• Get involved with a nonprofit

• Join an academic club or team

• Take up a creative hobby (for example, there are art scholarships!)

• Get political. Volunteer on a campaign or with a political club or group; those candidates and organizations often offer scholarships.

Try a less competitive sport—and get good at it! There are 24 NCAA sports offering college athletic scholarships.

• Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, softball and golf are among the most competitive. What about bowling, fencing, beach volleyball, rifle, tennis, track and field, swimming or wrestling?

Be bold and ask relatives or close family friends if they’d be willing to donate to your college fund. Ask for no-strings-attached contributions; best to avoid borrowing. Try sending them a copy of your grades at the end of each semester, as a thank you and proof they are making a wise investment in your future.

How can you maximize your scholarship awards?

While still in high school Ashlyn Chambers knew she wanted to attend the University of Central Arkansas and major in Nutrition Science, so she became proactive in obtaining financial aid.

Essentially starting at UCA as a sophomore, Ashlyn had given herself a head start in her college education that allowed her to stretch her scholarship dollars.

“I took concurrent classes through Cossatot [Community College] while in high school and obtained around 37 hours with 32 of those transferring to UCA,” she says. “So I had a whole year done whenever I got here [to UCA] so I didn’t take the first year of the Arkansas Challenge [scholarship] so I could get all three years.”

By forfeiting her freshman award amount from the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, Ashlyn obtained the higher award rates in her first year on UCA’s campus. Once on campus, she went after more scholarship money through UCA Foundation scholarships and by joining the scholars' program.

What are concurrent classes?

Concurrent classes allow students to earn college credits while taking college-level courses as they work towards their high school diploma.

Arkansas high schools vary with their concurrent credit opportunities so it’s important to find out the conditions specific to your high school. Also, research which courses will transfer to the Arkansas college you wish to attend.

What is the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship?

Offered by the Arkansas Division of Higher Education, this scholarship is awarded to Arkansas residents and offers a range of award amounts for individual years based on a four-year or two-year college.

High school seniors may elect to forfeit the freshman award amount if they have 27 college credit hours by the time they enroll in the Fall term following their senior year. Electing to forfeit the freshman award amount could increase your funding to the next tier of award levels should you qualify.

Students must submit a request to forfeit their freshman award amount by July 1.

Ways to Stretch Your Financial Aid

Do concurrent credit in high school to reduce number of college classes you’ll have to pay for.

Look for opportunities to “test-out” of courses. You get college credit, but don’t have to pay for the class.

Choose an affordable school. Not all colleges nor degrees cost the same. Pick a school where your money will last longer—get more bang for your buck. And shorter degree programs mean less time in schools, and thus, less money to spend.

• For example, the annual undergraduate in-state tuition (for classes only) at the University of Central Arkansas was $6,810 for 2020-21. By comparison, it was $5,130 at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and $3,375 at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

Ask about an accelerated degree program. Less time in school = lower costs in everything from classes and supplies to room and board.

Don’t lose your financial aid! A no-brainer, but…

• Keep your grades up. If your GPA falls below a certain number, you can lose your financial aid.

• Stay out of trouble. If you are charged with a drug-related offense, you can lose your financial aid.

• Make sure you’re enrolled in enough classes. Most aid is given with the expectation that you’re a full-time student. If you drop below half-time, you can lose your financial aid.

Apply for a work-study program—earn money to put towards courses.

Utilize your student ID for discounts throughout your college community. Stretching your regular dollars, stretches your scholarship dollars too.

Get a part-time job or paid internship that’s relevant to the career you’re pursuing. While this on-the-job experience won’t reduce your college tuition, the money earned can contribute toward it and there will be instant added value to your resume.

Live at home. Campus housing and meal plans are expensive.

Split living expenses with a roommate (or two).

Use university or public transportation to get to class (campus parking is pricey!).

Rethink Greek life. It’s an expensive paid-for social experience, and while very special, it might be out of your budget.

Use the library. Save on required reading texts by checking out books from the public or collegiate library. The library also offers free internet access.

Create a monthly budget and stick to it.