Forty million Americans now have at least one outstanding student loan, according to new analysis from credit bureau Experian. Nationwide, student loan debt is at an all-time record of $1.2 trillion, an 84% jump since the recession, according to CNN Money.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have all or part of your education paid before you graduate college? Well don’t count on your parents or the Government to pay for your education. Many graduates are in a lot of financial debt as a result of attending college. Instead of forgoing an education maybe consider scholarships as a way to pay for all or at least part of your education.

What are Scholarships?
Scholarships are financial awards to students to further their education beyond high school. They do not require repayment and are considered financial aid for students.

Debunking Common Scholarship Myths
Unfortunately, a lot of students have the wrong idea about scholarships. There are a lot of myths out there, and believing those myths can cause you to lose out on a lot of free money.

Here’s how you can tell fact from fiction.

Only low income or minority students win scholarships.
Wrong, there are scholarship offerings for all races, religions and social economic backgrounds.

I don’t have straight A’s and I don’t play sports so I don’t qualify.
What if you’re not a Star Athlete or a Brainiac, do you even qualify for scholarship money?

Don’t count yourself out.

There are literally billions of dollars in scholarship opportunities. Employers, churches and non-profit organizations all award scholarships. There are even scholarships that award students who don’t have the best grades. Some scholarships require little effort and are given to students for just being themselves.

Scholarships are not worth the effort
Wrong! Many students pass up smaller scholarships because they think it is not worth the effort to apply. $500 dollar scholarship are continually overlooked. Why? Because students know that $500 dollars is a drop in the bucket in the way of paying for their education. So why bother?

Let’s consider looking at this another way. Try looking at scholarships like a part time job. If a scholarship takes 10 hours to complete and was worth $500 dollars, you could potentially earn $50 dollars per hour. Not bad! It is highly doubtful that any high school student earns that much money at their part time jobs.

When you look at it from a different prospective those little scholarships are totally worth your time!

The easier the better.
Wrong! The amount of money awarded will depend greatly on the amount of effort required and will affect competition for the scholarship. For example, if the only requirement is to fill out a simple form to qualify, then many other students will apply as well creating higher competition.

Higher competition equals less chance of winning.

It may be worth your effort to write essays or volunteer to acquire high paying scholarships. Keep in mind, the bigger the pay-out, the more work will be required.

I should wait until my senior year to apply.
No! Waiting until your senior year to apply for scholarships is a HUGE mistake. There are scholarships out there that will award money to students as young as 13 years old. The earlier you start applying, the more money you can acquire to pay for your education.

Once I am in college, I am no longer eligible to receive scholarship money.
Wrong! You should continue to look for scholarships even after you graduate high school as well as while you are in college. If you are in college, it is recommended that you visit your school’s financial aid department, as well as online resources, to see what scholarship opportunities are available.

College can be expensive and student loans require students to begin payment 6 months after they graduate. It is important to look for scholarship money now to easy the coming debt.

Remember a little effort could go a long way in paying part or all of your education! Start applying now before it’s too late!