As we turn the corner on the summer, rising high school seniors across the country are already dreading the upcoming college application season. Not only does the simple question of whether or not they’ll get in weigh on students, but now more than ever, students (and their parents) have to worry about just how they’ll pay for the soaring costs of their favorite college. Even with financial aid, students can still end up saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt by the time they graduate!

But, even with the soaring costs, the data is clear that a college education is good to get in the long-run. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “in 2014 the median earnings of young adults with a bachelor's degree ($49,900) were 66 percent higher than the median earnings of young adult high school completers ($30,000).”

So rather than give up on the dream of going to college, let’s think of ways to help aspiring young adults get the support they need to pay for college. And there are ways you can get help. One of the ways to lower your college debt burden that is particularly near and dear to us at ICS is through academic competitions. To help you take advantage of these opportunities, make sure you get your free ICS account. We help you keep track of all the available academic competitions and find the programs most-likely to engage you or your students.


A little known fact is that competitions provide more than $27,000,000 in scholarships and awards to K-12 students each year (according to an ICS industry analysis of over 450 competitions).


In fact, participating in academic competitions can help you pay for college in a number of ways beyond just giving you financial awards! We’ve summarized 5 key ways to use academic competitions to help pay for college here.


  1. Winning Awards with Cash Value

Of course, the first and most obvious way educational competitions help you pay for college is by directly awarding you money. Many competitions offer financial benefits to the winners as direct college scholarships or even free-use cash awards. The ICS database of competitions alone includes more than 450 competitions with prize money as awards, but we don’t even have every competition listed yet.

Top prizes can earn students upwards of $100,000, but even regional or local prizes can be in the thousands of dollars. There aren’t many of the very top awards given out each year, but there are thousands of smaller awards and regional/local prizes for you to grab. Never underestimate yourself in jumping into a competition. Go for the gold, and you just might be surprised at what awards and scholarships you can turn up.

The highest awards don’t come easy. They require a lot of hard work, but the results are worth it, especially when, along the way, you can earn smaller regional awards. And any amount of money will help lower your college tuition burden. If you’re not competing for academic competitions, you’re leaving good money on the table for someone else.


  1. Improve your financial aid applications

So maybe the educational competition didn’t have a cash prize, or you didn’t win overall. Your participation alone though is still a key way to help you earn money. It shows your hard work, skill, and drive, which are essential qualities that universities look for in a prospective student.

Financial aid applications to universities are often given out on merit (how well they think you’ll do in college). Having demonstrated a self-starting attitude by participating in academic competitions in high school can show the financial aid reviewers that you are a student they want to have at their school.

Put your involvement in competitions on your college applications, resume, and financial aid applications to distinguish yourself from other classmates. Universities can offer you financial aid based on your merit and abilities in specific fields. Just like athletic scholarship, but for the exceptional academic athletes. You just need to show it, and there’s no better way than joining strong academic competitions.


  1. Get outside independent scholarships

There are thousands of academic scholarships floating around that aren’t directly tied to a college. It seems almost every month new ones pop up on our radar as well (check out Modeling the Future Challenge for one). You can look outside universities for financial help. There are different foundations, clubs, and businesses that offer scholarships to students for a variety of specialties.

As a participant in education competitions, you are familiar with working under pressure and excelling in your field. Some grants based on different contests—like essay writing—can be entered with the same mindset as you would when competing. Use your education competition experience to showcase yourself and earn money from different scholarships in your particular subjects.


  1. Raise money directly to continue your competitions in college.

Entering educational competitions are a good way to earn money directly, but they can also help you gain support from others as well. You can look to followers to help you raise the money to continue competing in college and to even get help to cover some of your other college expenses. If you show a strong desire to do good, change the world, or build cool stuff, people will support you. Especially if you have a concrete goal like winning a specific competition.

Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to get your network involved in supporting your academic competition teams. There are also online funding platforms like “GoFundMe” that provide a platform for you to raise funds for specific needs. Setting up a team profile here and making a request of your followers can help.

Your friends and family members can help you succeed in raising money or finding connections so that you can continue to participate in competitions while in college. Especially if you demonstrate a specific plan you want to follow to win the collegiate competitions.


  1. Find company sponsorships for your teams

Use your educational competitions and contacts to network with different companies. Employers such as Apple, Google, or Facebook are difficult to reach, but competitions provide a setting that allows you to connect with them and others by showing your skills directly to their employees (who often participate as judges or mentors of these competitions).

Local companies also love to help students from their home towns. If you demonstrate a plan to participate in specific academic competitions and have a way to give the company some recognition for their support of your team you’ll have a great shot at getting companies to sign on as sponsors. Just like with athletic competitions, academic competitions can help these companies market their brands while helping you pay for college.

All it takes is a little drive, a plan of action for what competitions you’ll be doing, and a proposal for how the company will benefit (branding and publicity-wise) from sponsoring you in the competitions. If you have those three things, you can start to market your academic competition teams for sponsorship and you’ll be well on your way to covering those college expenses!


Don’t let the opportunity pass you by – Get in the Arena!

There are academic competitions for every interest. Whether its history, marine science, mathematics, mock trial, or even politics, there’s a competition for you. Don’t let the opportunity to earn your academic creds pass you by. College is expensive but competitions can help. Check them all out on ICS’s Competition Database, and make sure to signup for your free account with ICS to get the updates on all the action and opportunities available for you or your students.