If you are a current or future college student – or a parent or guardian of one, for that matter – one of the most beautiful words ever is “scholarship.” 

Scholarships provide financial support to reduce the out-of-pocket expense of college. They aren’t just for athletes and valedictorians either. They can be need-based, merit-based, or based on different criteria such as a student’s hobby, field of study, or religion.

Harjas Sidhu, PNC Bank’s head of Student Lending, and her team have helped a lot of students with financing their higher education.

We advise families to invest time and energy into seeking scholarships. It can help defray the cost of education and improve your financial position after earning a degree. It’s free money. And who doesn’t like free?

Speaking of scholarships, we know a great place to start.

PNC Bank’s Student Solution Scholarship

On June 1, 2024, PNC launched an enhanced scholarship program. This program is available to students nationwide, as long as they attend or plan to attend an approved institution. Winners must be 18 years or older at the time of drawing.

“We are strongly committed to higher education,” Sidhu offers. “For the past decade, we’ve taken deep pride in this scholarship program. Now, in 2024, we’re awarding twelve scholarships and have increased the individual awards to $10,000 each. We think this will go a long way towards assisting with tuition and living expenses.”

If you ask her, Sidhu will tell you it’s one of the best parts of her job.

“PNC Student Lending helps put an education within reach for so many. At the same time, this scholarship will give some truly amazing students an even bigger boost. It’s just so rewarding to be part of this effort.”

Want to learn more about PNC’s Student Solution Scholarship? Don’t wait. Drawings are held December 1, 2024, and June 1, 2025. Learn more about this opportunity and register today.

Yet pursuing scholarships and financial aid takes time and discipline. Here are more ways to find assistance for school.

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

To qualify for your piece of the billions of dollars in financial aid, including scholarships, set aside each year by the government, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Schools use the FAFSA to put together financial aid packages, states use it to determine eligibility for state aid, and it is required for many scholarship applications. Some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds, so the earlier students and families fill out the FAFSA, the better the chance to be in line for that aid.[1]

Figure out which scholarships are right for you.

There are many scholarships out there. Boost your odds by applying for those scholarships for which you’re most qualified, asking yourself a few basic questions:

  • What field of study excites me the most?
  • What career path do I want to explore?
  • What extracurricular activities do I enjoy the most?
  • Have I demonstrated leadership?
  • Have I or my family overcome hardships?

Answer these questions in depth. Don’t sell yourself short, either. Instead, be confident in the many talents you truly have.

The sooner you start your scholarship search, the better.

Once you know which scholarships may fit best, do your research.

“When talking to our clients about funding college, we advise them to begin the scholarship hunt early,” Sidhu offers. “Think about the big picture – not just the individual scholarships, but how they will reduce the total cost of attending a given school. Understand total costs of attending a particular school and how helpful a potential award might be.”

There are websites that make it easy to find opportunities. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship finder lists thousands of possibilities. And there are many more.[2]

Further, information on these websites is updated often. Keep returning for the most current information.

At the same time, be careful giving your personal information. Scammers are everywhere, so never pay for scholarships and be wary of “guaranteed” money. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips for identifying scholarship and financial aid scams to help safeguard your information.  

Your school guidance counselor should have information about available scholarships—and provide advice as you move forward in the process.

Also don’t forget your personal network. Neighbors, friends of your parents, family members, and others may know local organizations offering scholarships not found on any databases.

Take your time filling out each application.

One benefit of applying early is not feeling rushed when filling out your application. Follow instructions carefully and thoroughly. Check your answers for spelling and grammar. 

Don’t skip opportunities that offer a smaller dollar amount.

It’s easy to look past smaller scholarship awards. But, as Sidhu puts it, those are definitely worth the effort.

“Yes, the $1,000 scholarship is not as flashy as a big award. Instead, think of it as $1,000 worth of hours you don’t have to spend at a part-time job--or $1,000 worth of student loans you don’t have to take out and eventually pay back.”

Apply for everything you can.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s that simple.

Cast as wide a net as you can. If you meet a scholarship’s criteria, nothing should stop you from applying. Remember, someone will get that scholarship money. It might as well be you!

Plan Ahead

If you’re a parent, don’t wait until your children reach high. The earlier you plan, the better. PNC has options for funding education including 529 plans, trusts, and educational savings accounts.

Sidhu agrees that it is never too soon to begin.

“One thing we try to always stress: clients need to start planning as early as possible with college savings plans. The more you mitigate needed borrowing, the better your financial quality of life after graduation.”

The bottom line is to start early, keep at it, and don’t get discouraged. While it may not be easy, and it might be time-consuming, the rewards in the end can most definitely be worth it.