Scholarships start path to cost-free education

The rising cost of a college education can make high school students and their parents lose sleep. One of the best ways to help soften the financial impact is through scholarships, which are gifts of money offered to qualifying students to pay for tuition and other expenses.

There are thousands of types of scholarships available for students across the U.S. They’re offered by employers, schools, individuals, trusts, private companies, religious groups, communities, social and professional organizations, just to name a few.

The key is to start searching for these scholarships early in your high school years so you’ll know what their requirements are and when you have to apply for them.

How do I find scholarships?

The first stop for students is to check with their high school financial aid office or career center. Next, visit your local library’s reference desk and then contact or visit the websites of local community organizations, foundations, civic groups, religious organizations and local businesses.

You should also check ethnicity-based organizations, your parents’ employers and professional organizations for various industries. For a broader search, the U.S. Department of Labor has a free scholarship search tool. Remember that you shouldn’t have to pay to find scholarships or other sources of financial aid so be mindful of such scams.

What type of scholarships are out there?

Scholarship requirements vary greatly and depends entirely on the group awarding the gift. Merit-based scholarships are based on academic achievement. Many are based on financial need. Other scholarships are based on a student’s interest, special talent or trait. Many scholarships are focused toward particular groups of people, such as women or military families.

The amount of a scholarship award also varies. It may cover the entire cost of tuition or it may be a one-time award. And each scholarship program has their own deadline to apply.

Keep in mind that scholarships will affect your overall financial aid. Combined, scholarships and financial aid can’t add up to more than the cost of your college tuition. Your college’s financial aid official will assist you with that.

Students should apply for as many scholarships as needed to help offset the cost of their higher education.

$1,500 Travis scholarships

Travis Credit Union members who are high school seniors attending college this fall are eligible to apply for our $1,500 Mary Keith Duff Memorial Scholarship. The application period runs through the close of business on March 7, 2016. For more information, visit