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How to Squeeze Cash Out of Your School

Free Money for College Students

by Julia Kaganskiy

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute: college is a rip-off. There, I said it.

It seems completely uncalled for, cruel even, for colleges to charge students upwards of $40K a year for the privilege of attending their fine institutions of higher learning. And yet we do it – scrimping and saving, applying for loans and scholarships, financial aid and work-study, and opting for a part-time job instead of that cool (but unpaid) internship – all because we have to, because a quality education is one thing we’re not willing to scrimp on.

Given this fact, I think it’s every student’s right – nay, obligation – to make the most of what their school has to offer, not only academically, but financially. Exploit every freebie, every funding opportunity, every “research grant” or “project stipend.” Squeeze every last unaccounted-for penny from your college’s piggy bank into your own shallow pockets.

There’s money to be found; you just have to know where to look. So, roll up your sleeves—this will likely take some digging.

Ask Around

The first step is to acquaint yourself with the opportunities available at your school. Most colleges have their own scholarship or grant programs funded by endowments from generous alumni, in addition to fellowships available nationwide like the Fulbright and Truman.  However, many schools don’t go out of their way advertising these opportunities—they may post a lone flyer in your class dean’s office and that will be the end of it—so you have to be proactive in your search.

The best way to find out about these hidden treasure troves (apart from cozying up to someone who works in the administration or career services) is through word of mouth. Know someone who’s going to Australia for the summer to study marine life along the Great Barrier Reef? Ask them how they’re funding the project. Chances are it’s not on their own dime.

As a freshman, Elizabeth Budrionis (William & Mary, ‘09) had never heard of W&M’s Charles Center, nor was she aware that it offered a number of scholarships and grants to W&M students.  If it weren’t for her roommate, who was herself applying for a scholarship, Budrionis would have never heard about the freshman summer scholarship that afforded her the opportunity to make a documentary about a haunted house in colonial Williamsburg. The Charles Center awarded her $3,000 to cover expenses, as well as free housing on campus.

“When I first found the documentary scholarship freshman year, I had always wanted to do a film project and it was a total fluke that my roommate found it,” recalls Budrionis, who has received funding for a documentary project every year since. “I think the scholarships are really great because they let students develop their own projects. It’s really cool to do your own investigative research on a subject you really enjoy.”

This year Budrionis is going to China for two weeks, along with two faculty members and three other students, to make a film about mercury levels in the Yangtze River.

Look for Internship Scholarships 

Nobody wants to work for free, no matter how valuable the work experience may be. Summer internships often put students in a difficult spot because they require fulltime work for little or no pay. Few students know, however, that many schools offer grants to students doing unpaid internships, which can help take the edge off financially.

You can start out by checking with your school’s career services center, but once again, your classmates will probably be your best resource.  Jon Shestakofsky (Wesleyan ’05) says he too heard about the Dana Grant from fellow students. Upon applying, he received $3,000 toward his internship with the merchandising department for the Lowell Spinners minor league baseball team.

The application process required Shestakofsky to fill out a form explaining the premise of the internship, how it was related to his studies, and how the amount of money he was requesting (the grant afforded a maximum amount of $3,000, though the sum has recently been raised to $4,000) factored into what he would need for housing, transportation and other aspects of living and working.

“While I was working the merch side of things, I came to realize what media relations was as a position and ended up volunteering to do a lot of the work,” says Shestakofsky. “The following summer they made a spot in media relations for me to come back as a paid intern and that worked out very well.”

Shestakofsky’s luck continued. The internship led to a fulltime job running the media relations department for the Spinners. tThen, two years later, the Red Sox came calling. Shestakofsky started his new job as Media Relations and Publications Assistant with the Sox this March, and as a lifelong baseball fan, he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s all been really quick and it wouldn’t have been possible without this internship that was made possible by the Dana Grant,” he says.

Have your College Pick up the Tab

College comes with all sorts of tacked-on costs that you don’t even consider when looking at the price tag. Need books for class? Get ready to fork over an extra $400 per semester. Need a gown for graduation? That’ll be another 100 bucks, thank you. A nice suit to wear on interviews? At least another $300, if you’re going high class. And that’s not even taking into account all the unforeseen costs that can arise out of emergency situations.

Certain schools offer a stipend or some sort of financial aid to help students manage these extra costs, and sometimes you don’t even have to demonstrate financial need to be approved. That’s how Abby Reilly (Smith ’08) got the school to pay for her graduation gown and award her a $200 stipend for interview expenses.

Reilly found out about these hidden funding opportunities (once again) through a friend. “I have a friend who did all the digging and let us all know about it,” explains Reilly. “She had to get knee surgery and needed a pair of eyeglasses very suddenly. She’s close with somebody in administration and they mentioned that they have all this funding through class deans [Dean of College emergency fund] and the Smith Aid Society.”

Though she says the school doesn’t really advertise it because they don’t want to give money away, there are around 10 funding programs available at Smith for items as diverse as undergrad studies, emergency travel, field trips for “special studies,” college textbooks, art supplies, and social funding, among others.

Reilly looked into the programs for herself and found the application process to be quick and painless. All she had to do was fill out a simple form and, within days, she usually received notice of approval. “Pretty much, if you can justify it as an educational or vocational expense, you can get money,” says Reilly.

Not to Be Underestimated

If you can’t find the scholarships and grants that will help you get the big bucks, never underestimate the satisfaction of a good freebie.

Here is a brief list of on-campus freebies to be taken advantage of:

  • Free food at school events and activity promotions
  • Free movie screenings
  • Silverware, napkins and dishes from dining halls
  • Promotional pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers, binders, bags, etc. from companies/schools promoting themselves
  • Free condoms from student health services
  • Free Scantrons and blue books from study breaks

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