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To most high school juniors and seniors, the hunt for scholarships in order to prevent accruing a horrendous amount of debt is a necessity. It has slowly but surely become part of every prospective undergraduate’s college process, but we need to ask ourselves this: when is it actually worth writing more essays and submitting more applications for the sake of earning some scholarship money? Well, two major variables must be considered: time (which there will be a definitive lack of if you’re applying to a lot of colleges) and your specific colleges’ financial aid policies.

For those of you still unfamiliar with the way financial aid is typically doled out, they can generally be sorted into three categories. There’s the part of your aid package that comes as a grant – that means you don’t have to pay it back. What you see is what you get and, eventually, what you pay. On top of that, a few thousand dollars per year comes in the form of work study, which can either be seen a grant with the condition that you work for the money, or a school-sponsored part-time job. Both definitions would essentially be correct. You’ll also get a bit of aid from FAFSA, or the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. The aid given here is a loan, meaning that it does have to be paid back. Unlike taking out other student loans, however, these loans don’t need to be paid with interest.

The last-mentioned form of aid, your federal loan, is the item of interest. Whatever scholarships you earn can be subtracted from your total federal aid first and foremost, meaning that the amount you may need to borrow decreases. That sum will be displaced by the scholarship instead, which doesn’t have to be paid back. If the amount you receive in outside scholarships exceeds that of your federal loan, then scholarships start displacing your grant. This obviously has no effect on the cost of college, since replacing a grant with a grant just evens out. In most cases, it’s very improbable to earn enough scholarships to eclipse the aid offered in grants, but if you ever get to that point, scholarships can be applied to the remaining tuition and fees.

But why does this all matter?

Well, it’s common knowledge that senior year or at least the beginning of senior year, is crucial. You’ll be applying for colleges and scholarships while still balancing all your schoolwork and activities. That extra time spent on your essays could seriously make all the difference. Getting into college should be everyone’s first priority, of course. The scholarship search can wait, since scholarships in general have deadlines throughout the year. My genuine advice? No hurries, deal with things one at a time.

It’s also important to know your select schools’ policies regarding financial aid. Some college will give very little need-based financial aid, and in some instances none. In such cases, scholarships are literally free money for your education! On the other hand, a select few colleges don’t honor loans in the first place. They may have all grant policies, meaning that all financial aid either comes in the form of a grant or work study, making scholarships ineffective lest they should cumulatively exceed the college’s original financial aid.

So, what’s the verdict? Is the scholarship search worth it? In my experience, the majority of colleges utilize FASFA and therefore scholarships can significantly reduce your cost of attendance. The only catch is that some scholarships come with conditions; academic scholarships may require that you maintain a certain GPA, while athletic scholarships may require that you maintain optimal performance as an athletic recruit. If you’re up to the task, then these scholarships should be no-brainers. Also, remember that your school’s guidance department can set you up with a ton of local scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000. If you’re done with college applications and have no other outstanding obligations, then by all means, go for it. Happy hunting, everyone!

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the author

Nelson Dong is an incoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and hails from North Hunterdon High School. Born in a state overrun by loud, tan New Yorkers (yes, they're all from New York with the exception of Pauly D), he holds great disdain for the shore. He dabbles in dancing, singing and writing, among other artistic ventures and plays tennis to stay in shape. However, it must be noted that he absolutely does not lift because he doesn't have time.

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