How to Find And Apply For It
The first step is to fill out the FAFSA—the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. It becomes available on January 1st each year and must be turned in by March 2nd for priority consideration for the school year starting in the fall. It can be turned in later than that, but you are unlikely to get much money if you do. It is easiest if your parents have already filled out their tax forms. This will put you in the running for most forms of federal aid. The best and easiest way to complete the FAFSA is online, although you can still complete a paper form and mail it in, if you wish. You can find the FAFSA online. Be careful that you don’t accidentally go to any of the sound-alike sites that charge you to fill out the FAFSA.
Next, you want to make yourself eligible for Cal Grants. Go to your school counselor and fill out a Cal Grant GPA Verification Form and send it in by March 2nd as well. You can learn more at the Cal Grant website.
At this point you are in the running for the main sources of financial aid for most students—federal, state, and university funds. There are other sources of aid out there that you can find, however. Once more the internet is your friend.
It used to be hard to find and apply for private scholarships. Not anymore. There are several free websites, such as Fastweb, that will help you locate and apply for scholarships that match you. First you fill out a profile and then the site does the search for you, helping you find many small or very specific scholarships that would be hard to find any other way. Do NOT use a site that charges you for this—Fastweb and other sites are just as good, and they are FREE. Also, you might do your first internet search for scholarships while you are still doing college applications in case there are any scholarships that are perfect for you but which have early application dates.
Many scholarships require you to write a short essay as part of your application. Students often shy away from these because of the work involved. This is good news for you, as it means less competition for the scholarship and a better chance for you to get it. You can reuse parts or even entire essays that you have written for college applications or even other scholarships to help speed up this process. Remember: even if that scholarship is only for $500 and it takes you three hours to fill out the application…if you win it, you have just made over $150 an hour!
When you have your list of scholarships that you are going to apply for, make a list of the dates they are due and take care of them in that order so that you don’t miss any of them.
Another good place to look, if you are in Santa Barbara County, is the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara. This organization is looking to help students that have spent four of the six secondary grades in Santa Barbara County schools and are graduating from a county high school. Just be aware that they have their own application due dates which are earlier than the FAFSA and Cal grants so that you don’t apply too late.