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Still unsure about college? It's not too late to apply for scholarships or even school.

Even with the May 1 deadline for college decisions come and gone, many students may still be undecided about which school to attend, or they may have given up after a botched FAFSA rollout and other problems securing financial aid.

But education experts want students and families to know, that it isn’t too late to get scholarships or even apply to a school to attend this fall.

Students have access to 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships whose total value tops $7.4 billion, according to the independent nonprofit foundation Educationdata.org. Some applications for that funding require essays and academic or athletic achievement. But many don’t. Some take as few as two minutes to complete, with a chance to win as much as $25,000. Scholarships are also gifts and don’t have to be repaid.

“This is important both from an emotional standpoint and a practical, financial standpoint,” said James Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), a private foundation that works as a nonprofit to honor high-achieving students. “With the FAFSA delays and confusion, millions of young people feel helpless," he said, "But there is one area where they can take control and that’s applying for scholarships.”

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FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Who can apply for scholarships?

Anyone.

Scholarships are available on a year-round basis and they’re not just for high school seniors – students of all grades and ages can apply,” Lewis said, noting college or graduate school students can also apply. “There’s literally a scholarship for everyone.”

Merit-based scholarships may require you to meet or exceed certain standards set by the scholarship giver. Others may be needs-based. Many are geared toward specific groups of people: women; graduate students; where you or your parent work; military families; athletes, minorities; community service; music; and religious organizations.

Where can I find scholarships?

Everywhere.

“We generally start by suggesting students begin at home in their local communities,” Lewis said. “There, many business organizations and corporations provide scholarships. At the local level, there are also scholarships for virtually any extracurricular activity, from sports and dance to theater and STEM clubs.”

The Department of Education and NSHSS also offer suggestions and resources. Specific sites like StudentScholarships.org, Going Merry by Earnest, Niche, and Scholly by Sallie Mae list scholarships.

Can I get a scholarship in time for school this fall?

Scholarship notifications vary widely, but most take one to three months, Lewis said.

“This should not discourage applicants,” he said. “Those who apply for scholarships will most likely have their awards by the start of the new school year if they win, and they can keep applying for scholarships even when they're in college.”

Some students are even able to pay for all of college by leveraging scholarships. The most famous one? Scholly founder Christopher Gray landed $1.3 million in scholarships and got a deal on Shark Tank for his company.

What if I haven’t even applied or gotten into a school yet?

It’s also not too late!

◾ National Association for College Admission Counseling lists schools that are still accepting applications.

◾ Niche allows students to be considered for immediate acceptance at 91 schools across 30 states through its Direct Admissions program through Aug. 1 for the 2024-25 school year.

International High School of New Orleans student Dennis Barnes has received more than $9 million in scholarship offers from 170 colleges and universities across the nation.
International High School of New Orleans student Dennis Barnes has received more than $9 million in scholarship offers from 170 colleges and universities across the nation.

How does Direct Admissions work?

Students create a free Niche profile and select schools they’re interested in. If the student meets a school’s criteria, that school sends an immediate acceptance that includes a breakdown of the costs of attending and any scholarship money it can offer.

Students can compare offers and accept one without having to complete a separate, full school application or FAFSA to receive the offered scholarship.

Niche has 38 fields to complete, and the student never has to pay an application fee, said Luke Skurman, Niche’s chief executive.

Half of all U.S. college-bound high school seniors create an account on Niche each year, he said. This year, more than 900,000 students have at least one Niche Direct Admissions offer, but the average is more than five offers per student with an average scholarship of $18,500 per year, he said.

Alternative path: Is it possible to avoid student debt? These career, education tracks offer a different path

Bottom line

Higher education may feel especially unattainable this year due to soaring school costs, high interest rates and difficulty getting federal aid, but don’t give up, experts say.

“The main things are to be organized and to stick with it,” Lewis said. “The rewards can be amazing!”

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at mjlee@usatoday.com and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.   

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College scholarships are still available despite FAFSA woes