Everyone wants to know how to find college scholarships. The first step is to understand what type of scholarships you’re looking for. Will you qualify for need-based financial aid? Or will you depend on merit-based aid? Merit-based scholarships can come from your college directly, or a private source.
Here’s an overview of how to find a variety of types of scholarships to help your student reduce the cost of college.
What Kinds of Scholarships Are Available?
The term scholarships is quite broad. There are scholarships based on financial need, and academic scholarships which are offered to students with excellent grades or top standardized test scores. There are also scholarships for minority students and those who are studying particular subject areas.
Most private or college scholarships are designed to offset the cost of tuition. There are also “full-ride” awards from colleges that cover the entire cost of attendance: tuition and fees, room and board, and other educational expenses. Many full-ride scholarships are offered to athletes, but there are some available based on academic performance.
In general, there is no limit to the number of college or private merit scholarships a student can apply for and win. Applications (especially for easy private scholarships that don’t require an essay) often only take a few minutes.
How much merit aid your child needs depends on the cost of attendance for the school they are considering. For example, a scholarship worth several hundred dollars can significantly lower the cost of attending an in-state university. However, your child may need thousands of dollars in scholarship money to make attendance at an Ivy League school financially feasible.
How can you help your child decide which scholarships to apply for? The most time-efficient plan is to apply based on two things: monetary amount and eligibility. Encourage your child to focus on generous awards that they have a greater chance of winning.
1. Scholarship Websites
Thanks to the internet, it’s far easier to find scholarships than ever before (if you know where to look). There are several sites that aggregate current scholarships and provide all relevant information. These websites make it very easy for your child to find and compare awards quickly.
There’s a wide variety of scholarships available on most websites. Awards often range anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars. Some require a detailed application along with a personal essay or other creative contribution. Others are more like a lottery drawing and only require students to provide a few personal details to apply.
Unfortunately, the internet is also home to misinformation and unreliable details about paying for college. Here are some legitimate scholarship websites with trustworthy information about merit scholarships:
- CareerOneStop.org (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor)
Another option is to find lists of scholarships based on a specific deadline (e.g. scholarships with deadlines in September, October, November, December, and May). You can also sort available scholarship opportunities by eligibility requirements. For example, there are scholarships open to high school seniors and some that are available to juniors.
Most scholarship finder sites have links directly to the online application page for each award.
2. High School Guidance Counselor’s Office
High school guidance counselors are often excellent sources of information on how to find merit scholarships. They may have details on lots of local and institution-specific scholarships that are not well advertised.
There are some colleges and universities that offer automatic scholarships to students with certain grades or test scores. High school counselors have all the information on these types of scholarship programs and can help your student understand which ones they’re eligible for.
A good high school guidance counselor can also help your student figure out which awards are best to apply for. They can offer suggestions about which scholarships your student would have the best chance of receiving based on their grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
Counselors can also help your student brush up on their scholarship applications. In many cases, scholarships are awarded based on multiple factors, such as grades, community service, and a personal essay. Some scholarship applications also require letters of recommendation. Your student’s counselor can offer suggestions to craft an application that maximizes their chance of winning.
3. Colleges and Universities
Many schools offer their own institutional scholarships. These can be excellent options for students because they may not have as many applicants as national scholarship programs, meaning less competition. As with other scholarships, institution-based awards can vary in amount from a few hundred dollars, to thousands.
Some college scholarships are based entirely on merit, whereas others also take financial need into account. If your student is awarded an institutional scholarship, they may need to take certain courses or maintain a good GPA in order to keep the money, especially for multi-year awards.
Another benefit of institutional scholarships is that they are often available to more than just standard undergraduate students. Some schools offer scholarships for nontraditional students. There are also opportunities for graduate students and those pursuing doctoral degrees.
The best places to get information about institutional merit aid include your student’s high school guidance counselor and the college or university itself. You can also use a research tool like College Insights to compare the amount of merit aid offered at the potential schools on your student’s college list.
4. State Government
Most people think about the federal government when it comes to need-based financial aid. However, many state governments also offer scholarships, and some of these awards are very generous.
Typically, state scholarships are only open to residential students who qualify for in-state tuition, but not all awards have this type of restriction. Some scholarships are awarded based on a combination of financial need and merit, while others only consider a student’s merit.
A lot of states offer scholarships for students from underrepresented or minority groups. Other state scholarships are available to students who are studying certain subjects, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), or those who are pursuing high-need fields (e.g. nursing or teaching).
State-sponsored scholarships can be difficult to find, but there are several good research options:
- High school guidance counselor’s office
- Local libraries
- Scholarship websites with advanced searching and filtering features
If you know which state your student plans to study in (or which states they’re considering), contact that state’s department of education to learn about available scholarship opportunities. You can find contact details through the U.S. Department of Education.
Many companies offer scholarships or tuition reimbursements to their employees. If your student has a job, even a part-time one, they may be able to get some additional money for college from the company they work for.
Sometimes tuition reimbursement funds aren’t paid until after the school year or degree program is completed. It’s important to verify all terms of a program before signing up.
Some companies don’t just offer education benefits to their employees; they also have programs for employees’ spouses and children. That means your student may be able to get some college money from your or your spouse’s employer. The best place to find out about these types of programs is from the company’s Human Resources department.
6. Local Organizations
Local groups often have private scholarship programs, and these can be a great source of college funding. Here are some examples of local organizations that frequently offer college scholarships:
- Veterans’ groups (e.g. American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars)
- Churches and religious bodies
- Community centers
- Local (city/county) governments
- City or regional chapters of national clubs (e.g. Elks, Kiwanis International)
One of the best places to start a scholarship search is at your neighborhood library. Some organizations advertise their scholarships through libraries, and you can also look through local newspaper archives. Most city and town papers announce the winners of local scholarships each year, so they are a great resource for finding awards and grants available in your region.
7. Google and Other Search Engines
It may seem obvious to use the internet to search for scholarships, but this option is underutilized by many people. Scholarship websites like those listed above usually aggregate scholarship information from lots of different sources, but there are many awards that get overlooked.
Some scholarships aren’t advertised very well. Spending a little time with specific search phrases can reveal some options not found anywhere else.
This is especially true of awards offered by private companies. Lots of companies offer scholarships that are open to all students, not just employees’ family members, but they don’t widely advertise these opportunities. Here are some examples of companies and organizations that offer scholarships:
It’s worth taking the time to try a few different company names in a search for “<company name> scholarship.” Chances are, you’ll find at least a few programs your student is eligible for that you may not have known about, especially when searching for scholarships from smaller companies.
For most students, scholarships are a key factor in making college affordable. Spend some time comparing potential schools based on attendance costs and merit aid offered. The College Insights tool makes it easy to see key data for each institution. This information can help you and your student choose the best scholarships to apply for.
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