By Anne Henley Walker

Lowering college costs through scholarships could provide the opportunity to graduate debt-free.

Students looking for ways to ease the financial burdens of a college education are increasingly applying for scholarships. These grants are used to support their education based on academic success and other achievements. According to data published in October 2019 by Savingforcollege.com, more than 1.7 million private scholarships valued at over $7.4 billion are awarded each year.

“There are so many entities and organizations that offer scholarships if you are in need financially. You just have to take the time to apply to them,” said Mary Gardner Coffee, a University of Georgia senior, who has been awarded over 12 scholarships.

Coffee said she has received a few from the university, but has also received scholarships from her sorority, Chi Omega, as well as money from local companies and organizations in her hometown of Dallas, Texas.

According to the University of Georgia undergraduate admissions website, more than $7 million in scholarships were awarded to undergraduate students last year. The pool receiving the money is relatively large. Approximately 14% of enrolled first-year students received an academic scholarship from UGA, according to the website.

“My advice is to take every opportunity presented to you and do your research,” Coffee said.

While some scholarships can be harder to find and more of a hassle to apply for, Coffee explained that they are worth the time and effort. “I have won so many scholarships because I took the time to research opportunities,” she said.

Cindy Crawford, scholarship coordinator for the UGA Office of Undergraduate Admissions, offered similar advice.

“My biggest tip in applying for scholarships would be to apply for as many as possible,” Crawford said. “Always spend time researching potential opportunities.”

There are many resources available that offer comprehensive lists of scholarships. The UGA undergraduate admissions website provides an extensive number of scholarships that include detailed descriptions and instructions for applying.

“Once you begin college you should always be on the hunt for potential scholarships. For example, you should apply for scholarships within your academic major, study abroad, experiential learning, etc. There are so many scholarships out there,” Crawford explained.

Coffee also suggested that students should continue to apply for scholarships throughout college.

“There are so many random scholarships that people don’t even know exist,” Coffee said. “Many companies offer scholarship programs to college students to show they are giving back to their communities and supporting higher education.”

But an applicant still needs to stand out in the process. Crawford said each applicant should present their authentic self.

“In any application process, applicants should feel free to tell us who they are, not what they think we want to hear,” Crawford said.

As someone who has received multiple scholarships, Coffee has found that being yourself is key when trying to stand out among the other applicants.

“When applying, offer a personal anecdote. Show your involvement and express what makes you unique” Coffee said.

Anne Henley Walker is a journalism student at the University of Georgia. The reporting for this article was completed before the campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.