How to Find Scholarships

One of the challenges you’re probably facing is trying to figure out how to pay for college, right? In addition to grants and loans, you may also be eligible for scholarships to help pay for your expenses.

Scholarships are like grants. They are financial awards you can use for tuition and fees, books, and sometimes living expenses. And, you’re generally not expected to pay the money back in the future. You have to do a little extra work both to find scholarship opportunities and to submit applications to receive them. There are many different types of organizations interested in helping students pay for college.

Potential sources of scholarships include:

  • Federal, state, and local governments
  • Companies
  • Religious organizations
  • Fraternal or civic organizations that you or your parents belong to
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Private or family foundations
  • Individuals
  • Colleges and universities

Some scholarships are merit-based, meaning they are awarded for good grades, high test scores, participation in extracurricular activities like music or sports, volunteerism, or a combination of these things. Award opportunities might also be need-based, meaning that they require students to demonstrate that they need extra financial assistance beyond what their family is able to contribute. Then, there are also scholarships you may qualify for based on an affiliation you or your parents have, like from a religious organization you belong to, or from a nonprofit you volunteer for. Finally, you might find organizations that are interested in helping students of a particular ethnicity or other intrinsic characteristic.

There are lots of free search engines available to help you find scholarship opportunities. There’s no reason to pay for publicly available information, so avoid websites that charge a fee of any kind. Also, ask your counselor about any local awards they might know of from businesses or service organizations.

You can start your search here:

Start looking for opportunities as early as the spring of your junior year so you can plan which scholarships you’ll want to apply for in the fall of your senior year. Planning ahead will also give you the time to start putting together your resume, drafting a personal statement, and gathering references. You’ll probably need all of those things to apply.

Once you’ve started the application process, be sure to follow the instructions for each scholarship opportunity closely. Plan to tailor your standard essay or personal statement to speak to the specific areas each organization has outlined as being important to them. They’re asking you to tell them about yourself, but you also need to demonstrate that you’ve done a little homework and are a good fit for their award. Remember to read and follow the directions closely and submit all materials on time.

If you are awarded scholarship money, you will need to coordinate closely with the college you plan to attend to make sure they know you are accepting the award. Checks for scholarship funds are almost always written directly to the college or university you plan to attend. And, don’t forget: accepting an outside scholarship will affect your financial aid package from the school, and may affect your federal financial aid.