The process of finding college scholarships for high school students can be confusing and overwhelming for students and parents alike.
Most families want to know:
- Is it worth it to apply for scholarships?
- What’s 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 strategies should students use to increase their chances of winning scholarships?
- Can parents help in the scholarship search? 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. That means using winning strategies and doing a bit of research before submitting any applications.
Scholarships are free money that doesn’t have to be paid back. So learning how to strategically apply is crucial to a student’s scholarship success rate.
Students who write a quick essay without much thought will have basically no chance of winning — unless there’s only one applicant, which is very rare.
What’s the Difference Between a Merit Scholarship and a Private Scholarship?
Merit scholarships refer to award money offered by the colleges themselves. These scholarships can be automatic and are based on a student’s grade point average (GPA) and/or standardized test score(s).
Automatic merit scholarships don’t require a separate application, as students are eligible to be considered as soon as they’re accepted into the school.
Other merit college scholarships are awarded based on a student’s intended major or additional factors and do require separate applications. So attention to detail is vital when trying to obtain merit scholarships directly from colleges.
It’s important to know that the amount of merit scholarship money differs greatly at each institution. 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 can be found under the “Financial Aid” section on each school’s website and should be a very important part of you family’s search for the best-fit college.
For help finding colleges that offer merit scholarships, check out R2C’s College Insights Tool.
Private scholarships are those offered by organizations that are usually unaffiliated 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 to figure out where to look first. We’ve narrowed down scholarship sources into three sections: online, local, and niche.
It’s important to remember that there’s no “one and done” method of applying for scholarships. Many sources should be investigated as your student builds their scholarship list using a combination of the following:
Online Scholarship Sources
There are plenty of scholarship matching websites on the internet, but not all are created equal. Students need to be careful in how they approach locating awards on these sites.
Generally, these types of sites have students sign-up with their interests, abilities, potential college major, and current level in school. After sign-up, they’ll be emailed scholarship matches to check out and apply for.
It’s imperative that students create a new email address dedicated solely to their scholarship work, as they’ll likely receive lots of emails — some of which 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. Check out our list of the best websites for finding scholarships.
Local Scholarship Sources
Local scholarships are those offered to students who live in certain areas. They typically have less competition than bigger, nationally known awards.
Students should always concentrate on local scholarships and apply for every one they’re eligible for.
To find local scholarships, check the websites of all high schools in your area. 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 another great way to find out what scholarships nearby students are currently winning. Your student should add them to their scholarship list to apply for when eligible.
Niche Scholarship Sources
Niche scholarships are awards based on a student’s talents (like photography, creative writing, etc.), ethnicity, possible college major, extracurricular activities (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’m 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 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 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.
Some examples include “chemical engineering scholarships 2023” or “photography scholarships for high school students 2024.” Adding the current or 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 in High School?
There are scholarships offered for all levels of students, from elementary school to graduate students. So the time to apply is right now, no matter how old the student is.
I 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’re ready to apply.
Learn more about pre-scholarship prep here.
What Are Some Scholarships for High School Students?
Here’s a sample list of scholarships that high school students can apply for, but remember to consistently look for local scholarships at your high school and near by high schools too.
- Writers of the Future, Science Fiction Writing
- Heisman High School Scholarship
- Stuck At The Prom Duck Tape Scholarship
- Active Life Scholarship To Tackle Your Weakness
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
Parents and the Scholarship Process
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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