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You can still tap free money for college — here’s how 

Paying for college was a problem even before the Covid pandemic.

Now, with families under increased financial strain and a higher education more expensive than ever, some parents of college-bound students have reached a breaking point.

Most have to borrow to pay for much of the cost of their degree. That has already propelled student loan debt past a stunning $1.7 trillion. But there is another way.

Eunice Chon, 18, a first-generation Korean-American student who lives in Macon, Georgia, was determined to find enough scholarships and grants to cover the entire cost of college.

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Chon attends Howard High, a Title I school, which means there is a high percentage of low-income students. In fact, at Howard, 99% are considered economically disadvantaged like herself.

“My dad said, ‘we can’t send you to a school that has any out-of-pocket costs,'” she said.

Unlike a student loan, a scholarship is essentially free money, which means it does not need to be repaid. In addition to the gift aid offered by colleges and universities, there are private many scholarships available, often funded by foundations, corporations and other independent organizations. 

Even small awards add up over time. “Every dollar you win is a dollar less you will have to borrow,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

Eunice Chon, 18, will join Harvard’s freshmen class in the fall, with enough scholarship dollars to cover the cost in full.

Source: Eunice Chon

Chon applied for half a dozen such scholarships from local and national groups and was awarded various sums, ranging from $500 to a $20,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Scholars Program. She also received a scholarship from Crimson Education, which gives economically disadvantaged students free help from admissions experts.  

“That was the most competitive thing I’ve done,” she said of her scholarship applications — which says a lot considering that Chon also applied to 18 elite colleges in the most cutthroat application cycle to date. She was accepted at Harvard University, as well as a handful of other Ivy League schools.

Chon will join Harvard’s freshmen class in the fall, with enough scholarship dollars to cover the cost in full. 

There are more than 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships out there, with a total value of more than $7.4 billion, according to Kantrowitz.

There’s a scholarship for everyone out there.

James Lewis

president and co-founder of National Society of High School Scholars

“The biggest mistake that students and their family make is they feel they wouldn’t qualify — they opt out,” said James Lewis, president and co-founder of Atlanta-based National Society of High School Scholars.

“There’s a scholarship for everyone out there.”

Lewis suggests starting with a quick online search. “Type in your passion and the word scholarship, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.”

“Do you love asparagus? There’s a scholarship for that. Are you left-handed? There’s a scholarship for that,” said Ashley Boucher, a spokeswoman for education lender Sallie Mae, speaking hypothetically.

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