At last, summer is just about here, and young people across the country are about to start enjoying the long days, late nights and a couple months off from the daily grind of student life.
But while it may be tempting to forget about school entirely until August rolls around, it'd also be a mistake - especially in the realm of scholarships and financial aid.
Instead, here are a few simple things you can do in between beach trips and barbecues to keep your college-funding plans on track without cramping your summer style.
1. Research scholarships without the pressure: During the school year, you've got a lot on your plate and even more on your mind - and it doesn't help that most scholarship deadlines fall right in the middle of the busiest times for classes and tests.
So instead of waiting until the fall to do the bulk of your scholarship searching, get a head start over the summer: spend an hour each week checking out a different scholarship search engine, database or listing, and note any scholarships that you think you'll want to apply for.
Most of them don't accept applications over the summer, but you can easily figure out the usual opening and closing dates from the search or the provider's website. Get those dates on your calendar now, and you'll have one less thing to worry about when school starts again.
2. Meet the winners: From school and community awards nights to national press releases and website announcements, the winners of thousands of scholarships are getting their day in the sun. And, as you prepare for next year's applications, one of the best things you can do is to find out how they won.
Locally, talk to friends and classmates for scholarship-specific advice. Nationally, check the websites of scholarships you're interested in, and see if they profile their winners.
If so, take some time to read their stories, find out what they focused on, and see how your own experience is reflected. When it comes time to apply, you'll know how to stand out.
[Get tips on how to make your scholarship essay shine.]
3. Boost your resume: If you're interested in earning some extra cash this summer, there's good news: the summer job market is looking better than it has in years. But you can improve your college and scholarship resumes even more by devoting some time to volunteering.
If you want to get on the road, plenty of churches and community organizations use the summer months to organize volunteer trips; if you're looking for something closer to home, check out UGive.org, a database of volunteer opportunities geared specifically toward students.
Still wondering what to do? The campaigns, causes and "awesome-things" on DoSomething.org provide plenty of inspiration - and scholarship opportunities!
4. Get some face-to-face advice: Whether you're a 10th-grader weighing your options or a senior packing your bags, summer is the perfect time to talk with academic and financial aid advisers at your future college, university or trade school.
Just like your schedule, theirs is a little more open during the summer months, and a half-hour chat with an on-campus expert can provide you with a world of help as you work on paying for school. Since most offices are open on a limited basis, make sure you call to make an appointment first, and plan to have your financial information with you when you visit.
College advisers aren't the only ones you should be talking to this summer, either: you should also make some time to sit down with your parents and discuss the financial plan for your education. By laying everything out in detail, you'll ensure that you know exactly where you stand, and how much you'll need to pay for your dream school.
Since it's summer, we recommend having the discussion over ice cream - just make sure it only drips on your unofficial transcripts!
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.
- Financial Aid