The Biggest Financial Aid Secret Everyone Should Take Advantage of

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For many high school students, senior year is the time to start saving money for college. However, this could be a mistake.

Not the “saving money” part, which is always a good idea, but the time stamp for accruing cash for college. Many students are missing out on years’ worth of financial aid by starting late in their search. Just imagine what you kind of money a student could accumulate if he or she started saving freshman year of high school, especially when 55 percent of Niche users report scholarships being used to cover most of their next semester’s tuition.

Poll: How much will you depend on scholarships to pay for next semester's tuition?

Being proactive has its financial benefits, and there are some ways students and parents can start planning ahead when it comes to saving money for college, doing the following as early as freshman year of high school. The biggest financial aid secret everyone should take advantage of is time.

Step One: Start a Google Alert for the word “scholarship.”
News outlets release information about scholarship winners all the time. This is a good way to see who’s winning big ones, and what credentials to highlight when it comes to your own résumé. If you come across something that you think you’d be a good fit for, apply for it or add it to a document of “Scholarships to Apply For.”

Step Two: Talk to a school counselor.
Financial Aid Quote: "Less competition could mean more money for your academic career."Chances are, not many high school freshmen are applying for scholarships. If you find out from your school counselor about local scholarships available to you, you may have an upper-hand on other students by applying early. Less competition could mean more money for your academic career.

Step Three: Figure out what you do well.
Many students assume they aren’t eligible for scholarships because they’re not at the top of their class. This is simply not so. There are scholarships for every type of student, from athlete to bookworm to class clown. You just have to determine what makes you stand out. Even if you’re exceptional at crafting tweets on Twitter, there’s a scholarship for you.

Step Four: Utilize Niche’s Scholarship Search and matcher.
Not only does Niche have $500 scholarships for each year of high school, but the Niche Scholarship Search allows users to search for other forms of free aid by interest, sport, state, and more.

Saving in increments adds up. By senior year, that $500 you won sophomore year can go toward a semester’s worth of books for college.

Poll: How much money do you typically spend on textbooks per semester?

The Bottom Line
Naturally, students don’t have to know what college they want to attend by ninth grade, nor do they need to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. But saving money early creates less stress once it comes time to actually make these big decisions.