Can You Get More Scholarships and Financial Aid Once You’re In College?
by Elizabeth Hartley

Students and parents often assume that the financial aid package a student receives prior to the freshman year of college reflects the maximum amount of assistance that the student will receive each year.  This is not necessarily the case.  While it is important to maintain the required grade point average necessary to keep any scholarships, there may be more opportunities a student can explore for more funding.

The merit scholarships a student receives as part of the college’s effort to “recruit” that student is provided largely from the college itself but not necessarily from the department in which the student will major. (Exception:  If a student is awarded a music, art or dance scholarship, the related scholarships will come from the discretion of those arts departments after an audition/interview.)  As long as a student maintains a minimum g.p.a. (usually a 3.0), those merit scholarships are typically renewable each year.  So, for the freshman and sophomore year, those merit scholarships tend to stay the same.

However, in most colleges there are additional scholarships available within each academic department that can be awarded to the top juniors and seniors.  Sometimes those scholarships are publicized among the students in each major but sometimes they are awarded at the discretion of the department heads.  So, a wise strategy for students who hope to add to their merit scholarships through their college years is to make sure they position themselves for departmental scholarships in their major.  For example, if you want to seek more scholarships once you are in college:

1-    Make sure to pull excellent grades in the classes related to your major.  The departments often rank the students within each major and automatically award scholarships to the top student as of the fall of their junior or senior year.  Sit near the front in the classes related to your major and be an involved and interactive student.

2-    Let the department head know that you are open to scholarship opportunities.  Make an effort to meet with your professor and say something like, “I want to be as responsible as I can about how I fund college.  How can I find out about scholarships for biology majors and how to be considered for them?”  This comment will do two things; it will help you learn about those scholarships and it will also plant that seed in the professor that you would be especially open to additional funding. 

3-    Get to know the department’s administrative assistant.  He or she will know about all the internships and scholarships that come through the office.  Stop by his or her desk on occasion and ask the same question mentioned above.  Hopefully he/she will keep an eye out on your behalf.

FAFSA - Outside of departmental scholarships, funding opportunities may change with respect to financial aid because of FAFSA changes in how much the student is awarded.  Make sure to file FAFSA promptly each year by the deadline, including all supporting documents required.  Go to to file FAFSA for free.  Any other sites claiming to be the FAFSA site will charge you up to $100 to file it for you. 

If a student’s family is affected by divorce, disability, loss of a job, death of a parent or any other major change in their finances, they can send a “letter of special circumstances” to the financial aid office to request additional aid above any amounts allocated because of FAFSA.  The financial aid office will often make special concessions under such circumstances.

Becoming an in-state resident - Some students assume that if they attend a state-funded college in another state that they will automatically be considered as an in-state student at some point and will be charged the lower tuition rates for in-state students.  This is not the case.  Typically a student’s residency is determined by the residency of the parent completing the FAFSA form.  However, in some circumstances a student can appeal this designation and be considered an in-state student if they can prove his or her case. 

If a student is truly independent of that parent and has established residency in their own state, the student should visit the financial aid office and/or consult the state’s Commission on Higher Education to review rules of residency.  The difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition can be substantial.  (To find the contact information for each state’s Commission of Higher Ed, go to the “Explore Your State” section of this website and click on a state.  The governing commission’s contact information will be noted in the right margin.)

So, the motivated student can often find additional funding once he or she is in college by pursuing departmental scholarships, being thorough with the pursuit of financial aid through FAFSA and the financial aid office and by investigating the requirements to be considered an in-state student.  Lastly, college students should continue to pursue independent scholarships through databases such as to supplement their funding options.
Elizabeth Hartley is a college admissions and scholarship consultant.  Visit her website @ for a comprehensive and current list of valuable internet resources.

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