As the cost of college continues to increase, the role of scholarships becomes even more important in the pursuit of higher education. But as an Arizona high school student preparing to graduate and pursue a degree, where do you go to find the best options for your situation?

The Pursuit of Scholarships

There’s a misguided belief that scholarships are reserved for academically gifted individuals and/or those who have extreme and extenuating circumstances. And while people in these groups certainly have access to a number of good scholarships, that’s just a small percentage of what’s out there. Almost anyone can find scholarship opportunities. It’s just a matter of taking the time to do it.

This might sound a little alarming and accusatory at first, but here’s the truth: People who don’t get scholarships typically don’t try hard enough to find them. That’s not always the case – and not everyone will be able to acquire enough scholarship money to pay for 100 percent of their degree – but with so many options out there, you should be able to find some money if you look around.

The key is to treat your scholarship like a full-time job. Because at the end of the day, that’s exactly what it amounts to. Every $1,000 in scholarship money is $1,000 less you have to take out in student loans. (And every $1,000 really amounts to $1,200 – $2,500 when you look at the long-term cost with interest and fees over the life of the loan.)

If you’re having trouble justifying the time it takes to search for scholarships, reframe it in terms of cost. Let’s say it takes you, on average, two hours per day for ten days to find a $1,000 scholarship, fill out the application, write the essay, submit it, etc. That’s 20 hours, which sounds like a lot! But when you consider that you’re saving yourself $1,000 (and more if you account for the true cost of student loans), you’re basically earning $50 an hour on that time. That’s a whole lot more than you’d earn working a minimum wage job!

If you look at even larger scholarships, like a $10,000 scholarship, the numbers can get even bigger. It might take you a total of 40 hours to secure one of these scholarships, but that comes out to an hourly “payment” of $250. That’s a huge return on investment.

The moral of the story is that you need to take scholarships seriously. If you treat the search for these scholarships like a full-time job today, you’ll be rewarded in spades over the next 20 to 30 years of your life.

Finding Scholarships in Arizona

As an Arizona high school student or recent graduate, finding a way to pay for college is a major decision that must be taken seriously. Here are a few specific ways to find and secure scholarships to pay for school.

1. Private Scholarships

Some of the best scholarships can be found through independent sources. Depending on the type of degree program you’re entering, you might be able to combine multiple small scholarships to take a chunk out of your tuition cost.

For example, let’s say you’re going to Arizona State to study accounting. The Wiley Accounting and Finance Student Scholarship gives out a $1,000 award to a new student each month. All you have to do is apply!

2. Government Scholarships

The state of Arizona has a number of assistance programs that are designed to help students pay for their college education at one of the state’s many four-year universities. Most of these scholarships are awarded on a needs basis and require proof of financial hardship. There are other scholarships, however, that are handed out on a merit basis for academic success and other achievements. You can find out more by checking out the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) and the state’s Pay4College resource.

3. University Scholarships

Whether it’s Arizona State, the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona, or one of the other four-year private or public institutions in the state, every school has its own university scholarships that are awarded to students based on academic achievement, athletic achievement, and extenuating circumstances. You should explore these options as you evaluate different schools.

Lower the Cost of a College Education

The average college graduate finishes school with nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. But if you’re smart and intentional about applying for the right scholarships upfront, you can slash that number down considerably. Whether you’re able to pay for some or all of your education with scholarships, every dollar is important.