By Tamara You may think that college is too far away to even start worrying about it, but that could be a costly mistake. Unfortunately, the cost of a college education is not going down, and many colleges are starting to scale back some of their more generous financial aid packages. This means you’ll need to find even more money to help pay for your degree. Scholarships can help you cover many of your expenses, and may even reduce the need for taking out large student loans or juggling a job while you are in college. The sooner you begin the process the better. It may seem like the majority of programs are only open to seniors, but rest assured, there are plenty of scholarships available for high school sophomores, too. Here are just a few with upcoming deadlines. 1. Education Matters Scholarship What would you say to someone who says an education doesn’t matter? If you have the best response, it could be worth $5,000. That could make a hefty dent in your future college expenses. Simply submit your short essay (250 words or less) online for a chance to win. Deadline: November 30. 2. University Language Services Photo Contest Three awards are available through this photo contest, with the grand prize winner receiving $500. Just submit an original photograph that illustrates your idea of ‘college’ and a short description (200 words or less) of why the image embodies it for you. The photo must have been taken during a campus tour, so here’s a great excuse to start exploring your options! Deadline: October 22. 3. NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund Youth Essay Contest Do you support the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? You know; the one that states citizens have a right to keep and bear arms. If so, submit your essay (1,000 words or less) about why it is important and you could win $1,000 for college. There are also prizes for second ($600), third ($200) and honorable mention ($100). Deadline: December 1. 4. Stephen J. Brady STOP Hunger Scholarships The Sodexo Foundation provides five $5,000 scholarships to students who have demonstrated an on-going commitment to their communities by performing volunteer work that impacts hunger in the United States. If you win, you’ll not only receive the scholarship, but also a $5,000 grant for the hunger-related charity of your choice. Deadline: December 10. 5. We The Students Scholarship Contest Five awards, valued between $500 and $4,000 each, are offered through this essay contest. You will need to submit an online application and address the three essay prompts (500 words or less) regarding The Bill of Rights. In addition, the teachers of winning students will also receive prizes valued between $50 and $500 each. Deadline: December 16. As you get closer to senior year, your obligations will grow and your college to-do list will expand. Now is the perfect time to start churning out scholarship applications and learning the ins-and-outs of the financial aid process. Just a few hours a week can help you find, and hopefully win, enough free money for college so you won’t be faced with the horrible decision of having to turn down your dream college for lack of funding. Give yourself more options by applying to as many scholarships as possible and remember one thing, it’s never too early to start winning!