The topic of finding scholarships for high school students can be very confusing and overwhelming for students and parents alike.
Most families want to know:
- Is it worth it to apply for scholarships?
- What is the difference between a merit scholarship and a private scholarship?
- What are the best ways to find scholarships?
- When should students start applying for scholarships?
- What should strategies should students use to increase their chances of winning more scholarships?
- Can parents help in the scholarship process and if so, how?
Is It Worth It To Apply For Scholarships?
Absolutely, but only if a student is willing to put in the work it takes to apply correctly using winning strategies and doing a bit of research before submitting any application.
Scholarships are FREE money that does not have to be paid back, so learning how to strategically apply is crucial to a student’s scholarship success rate. Students who quickly write an essay without much thought will have basically no chance of winning unless there is only one applicant, which is very rare.
What Is The Difference Between A Merit Scholarship And A Private Scholarship?
Merit scholarships refer to award money offered by the colleges themselves. These scholarships can sometimes be automatic based on a student’s grade point average and/or standardized test score. Automatic merit scholarships do not require a separate application, as students are eligible to be considered as soon as they are accepted into the school.
Others merit college scholarships are awarded based on a student’s intended major or additional factors and do require separate applications, so careful attention to detail is vital when trying to obtain merit scholarships directly from colleges.
It is important to know that the amount of merit scholarship money differs greatly at each institution and doing research into which school offers the most merit money before making a college decision can have a huge impact on the cost of college for many families.
Merit scholarships offered by colleges can be found under the “Financial Aid” section at each school and should be a very important part of the search for a best-fit college and the family’s ability to pay for it.
For help finding colleges that offer merit scholarships, along with all the scholarship details in one place, such a deadlines, test score requirements, separate application required and more, check out our Merit Scholarship toolkit today!
Private scholarships are those offered by organizations that are usually not affiliated with any college. These can range from big companies offering large scholarships, such as the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, to smaller businesses such as a local credit union offering a $500 award to students who live in the area.
What Is The Best Way To Find Scholarships?
There are many ways to find scholarships and students can easily get overwhelmed trying figure out where to look first. I’ve narrowed down the sources into three sections: online sources, local sources, and niche sources.
It is important to remember that there is no “one and done” method of applying for scholarships. Many sources should be investigated and the scholarship list built by using a combination of the following:
Online Scholarship Sources
Scholarship matching sites abound on the internet, so students need to be careful and prudent in how they approach locating awards found on these sites.
These types of sites generally have students sign-up with their interests, abilities, potential college major, and current level in school. After sign-up, they are then emailed scholarship matches that they are encouraged to check-out and apply for.
It is imperative that students create a new email address dedicated solely to their scholarship work, as they will without a doubt get lots of emails that might not even pertain to their scholarship search, such as loan offers and college-related advertising.
When students do sign-up for online scholarship sites, they need to fill out their profiles 100% and resist the urge to sign-up for every site they can find. I recommend Fastweb, Unigo, and Scholarship360 with a few other suggestions that can be found here.
Local Scholarship Sources
Local scholarships are those offered to students who live in certain areas and have less competition than bigger, nationally known awards. Students should always concentrate on local scholarships and apply for every one that they find themselves eligible for.
To find local scholarships, the websites of all area high schools should be scoured and tapped into. Many high school websites list local scholarships for all students in the area and not just those who attend that particular school.
There are many more sources for local scholarships, including community foundations, banks, credit unions, hospitals, law offices, civic groups, scout troops, professional organizations, clubs, and restaurants, to name a few.
Reading the local newspaper is also a great way to find out what scholarships area students are currently winning and adding them to the scholarship list to apply for when the scholarship searching student is eligible.
College websites in the state in which a student resides also often list scholarships for any student in that state and not just those who are currently admitted or are planning on applying for admission.
Niche Scholarship Sources
Niche scholarships are awards based on a student’s talents (photography, creative writing), ethnicity, possible college major, activity (such as volunteering or playing a certain sport), attributes (having red hair), state of residence or club membership (FIRST Robotics, Scouts, Elks Club).
Specific niche scholarships can be found in a number of ways. I am still a big believer in the big scholarship listing books, such as The Ultimate Scholarship Search Book because the awards are categorized in all the ways that I just listed (talents, ethnicity, major, etc.). These books can be purchased online, in bookstores, or borrowed from the local library.
Doing a Google search for scholarships is a great way to find awards, but only if the search parameters are first narrowed down. For example, simply searching for “scholarships” is going to result in thousands of results that will make any scholarship searching parent or student’s head spin. Instead, the search can be specific and distinct. For example, “chemical engineering scholarships 2018 2019” or “photography scholarships for high school students 2018 2019.” Adding the current and following year will greatly cut down the results that are outdated or no longer offered.
As with any scholarship, the guidelines and directions for niche scholarships need to be carefully read before students apply. When a possible scholarship is found, the extra step must be taken to double-check that the deadline, eligibility, and required materials have not changed since the scholarship source was published.
When Should Students Start Applying For Scholarships?
There are scholarships offered for all levels of students, from elementary school to graduate students, so the time is right now, no matter how old the student is.
I like to advise parents to become familiar with the scholarship process when their students are in middle school, but there are many scholarship prep actions that can be taken even earlier to increase a student’s chances of winning scholarships when they are ready to apply. Learn more about pre-scholarship prep here.
What Strategies Should Students Use To Increase Their Chances Of Winning More Scholarships?
When I helped my own sons in the scholarship process, there were definite strategies that we used to help make each application stand out and get noticed by the judges, and I am happy to share a few of them here.
For every scholarship application submitted, students MUST:
- Follow all guidelines and directions exactly as stated for each award
- Make sure to include all required materials in the correct order, if specified
- Ensure that the student is qualified to apply
- Begin essays with a hook that draws in and captures the reader’s attention
- Label each section with the student’s name
- Include a scholarship or activity resume, if allowed
- Share detailed and personal experiences in the essay
- Proofread every section and have two other pairs of trusted eyes do the same
- Maintain a clean online presence, as scholarship judges are watching
Can Parents Help In The Scholarship Process And If So, How?
Parents can absolutely help in the scholarship process and should remember that when their students win money for college, they also win because they have fewer college expenses to figure out how to pay. That being said, parents should always avoid writing scholarship essays for their students and completely taking over the process.
Having an open and honest talk about finances, the cost of college, and the amount the family can afford to contribute is extremely important. Once the discussion has taken place, students will know how much work they need to put into applying for scholarships and it will give them a clear “why” when they get stressed or frustrated with scholarship work.
Developing a scholarship list is a great way for parents to assist in the scholarship process. Parents can spend time searching for awards their students qualify to apply for and organize the list into which months the scholarships are due.
Email and text reminders are very helpful and using a student’s preferred way of communication will reduce the friction that often comes between student and parent. Parents can also proofread each application and essay and give helpful feedback to the student.
Using these methods of finding and applying for scholarships with a teamwork approach is what helped me and my own sons when we were knee-deep in the scholarship process. Knowing we were “in this together” greatly reduced the stress on my boys and increased their scholarship success rate in a huge way.
The scholarship process does not have to be overwhelming and confusing and if you are serious about reducing student debt and winning scholarship money, start now and remember, teamwork makes the dream work!
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by Monica Matthews, the author of How to Win College Scholarships. She helped her own son win over $100,000 in scholarships and now shares her expertise with other parents and their students. She truly has “been there, done that” in regards to helping parents and students navigate the scholarship process. Ms. Matthews’ step-by-step scholarship guide teaches parents to help their own students win thousands of scholarship dollars.