Below, we’ve summarized tips from talking to various professionals with specialties in finding private scholarships.
How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting Private Scholarships
The largest source of scholarships comes directly from the colleges you apply to. Those you are automatically considered for are called Institutional Scholarships or merit-based scholarships.
It’s extremely important that you research colleges that are the best economic fit for you, and find schools that are more generous with merit aid, to enhance your opportunity for institutional merit-based scholarships.
Additionally, colleges often offer scholarships to their admitted students based on other factors (like college major, GPA, etc.) and will require separate applications. You can find these on each college website under “financial aid.”
Why You Should Apply for Private Scholarships
The primary reasons to apply for private scholarships include:
- Institutional or merit-based scholarships (from colleges) are highly competitive, often receiving thousands of applicants.
- Colleges require a student to be a top performer/tester, whereas not all private scholarships do.
- Institutional scholarships may not offer enough money to cover your total cost.
- Institutional scholarship offers come after college acceptances, which is late in the year. So if you don’t get any or enough aid, you’ve squandered time and opportunities to apply for private scholarships.
- If your EFC is too high to qualify you for any federal aid (grants, WS, loans) or if you only qualify for loans, you’ve got nothing to lose by applying for private scholarships.
- Private scholarships are stackable (can be added to each other) and portable (can go anywhere), unlike most institutional scholarships.
*If you know your EFC ahead of Oct. 1st, the FAFSA opening filing date, and you realize you won’t qualify for need-based aid, then you can start the private scholarship search process sooner to get a jump on the competition. This is why it’s imperative to figure out what your estimated EFC will be as soon as midway through sophomore year in high school—and no later than junior year.
Can a College Take Away Your Scholarship?
There are instances when a student who receives need-based financial aid also wins a private scholarship, and a college then considers the award to reduce the student’s demonstrated financial need, thus reducing the amount of financial aid. This practice, known as “scholarship displacement,” does unfortunately happen.
If you cannot or do not want to write the check for what you owe, then it’s a simple choice between (or a combination of) the following:
- Your student or family takes out loans.
- Your student works during school (which will raise your EFC for next year).
- Your student applies for private scholarships (which will not raise your EFC and, if used properly, will not be taxed).
The two types of private scholarships that are usually not need-based and don’t require you to be a perfect applicant are niche and local scholarships.
What Is a Niche Scholarship?
A niche scholarship relates to a well-defined, smaller segment of the applicant population that has a unique skill, attribute, or commonality that few in the general applicant population possess.
If you’re wondering if your student could apply for a niche scholarship, start with asking them a few questions: What role do you fill in your family, school, or community? What makes you unique?
Your student may have a few niches they fit into, but the more specific, the better odds they’ll have in attaining a scholarship. (Minority = big niche, Learning Disabled = smaller niche.)
Some niches you’re born into, and some you create, like volunteering. It’s depth, not breadth, that both admissions and scholarships reward students for. So make sure their level of commitment is dedicated in earnest.
There are charities, foundations, civic groups, and businesses that give scholarships to specific niche students who align with their organization or corporate mission.
Examples of “by nature niche” Learning Disabled Scholarships (LD is not the only qualification)
- RISE Foundation $2,500
- Theodore R. and Vivian M. Johnson $1,000-$5,000 (at a FL college)
- Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award $1,000
- Ann and Matt Harbison $1,000
- Anne Ford Thomas $10,000 ($2,500/year over four years)
- The Feldman Law Firm $1,000
- Judd S. Nemiro Law Firm $1,000
Examples of a “by nurture niche” Service/Volunteer Scholarships (a strong service record is not the only qualification)
- Prudential Spirit of Community Award $1,000-5,000
- Comcast Leaders and Achievers Award $1,000
- Alliant Energy Community Service $1,000
- NHS Scholarship (NHS members with an outstanding service project) $2,400/annually (also could be under “local” category)
What Is a Local Scholarship?
These scholarship have a limited access by location, which aids in eligibility and less competition. Filtering your search by state, city, or county can help increase your student’s odds of winning.
For state scholarships, check your state’s DOE Programs website.
Here are some examples of local state scholarships:
- Florida Bright Futures—up to full ride to a Florida public college/university (tuition + most fees + book stipend, which is approx. $6,000/annually)
- South Carolina Palmetto Fellows Scholarship—up to $7,500
- Oregon—Ford Foundation Scholarship for Sons & Daughters of Employees of Roseburg Forest Products Co. $3,000-$5,000/annually
Check for these types of clubs online. Once you view their national website and scholarship programs, you can usually input your zip code to find a local chapter to find who to send your applications to and how to get the local club to sponsor you, if needed. You can sometimes apply to neighboring town chapters, and most of these clubs/orgs do not require a membership.
- Elks (some membership req’s): Most Valuable Student $4,000-50,000, Legacy Awards $1,000/annually, Emergency Educational Grants, Weigel Medical School Scholarship and local chapters can sponsor anyone for any amount they’d like and you don’t have to have an Elk family connection
- American Legion (military components): Samsung $1,250-10,000 (selection from Girls & Boys State Program Delegates), Legacy up to $20,000, Baseball amount varies, Oratorical $1,500-18,000, Eagle Scout of the Year $2,500-10,000, & Shooting Sports Scholarship $1,000-5,000
- Kiwanis International Key Club (high school membership req) $500-2,500
Kiwanis International Circle K International (college student membership req) $500-2,500
- Zonta International (local sponsor req) Young Women in Public Affairs Scholarship $1,000-4,000 & Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship $1,000-7,000 and Amelia Earhart Fellowship for Women in Aerospace $10,000/annual
- Pathfinder (Palm Beach & Martin Cty., FL) $2,500-4,000 *not to be confused with National Pathfinder Scholarship through the National Federation of Republican Women
- Kantner Foundation (Palm Beach & Martin Cty., FL) up to $20,000 Frederick and Grace Brecht Scholarship (Brevard Cty., FL) $1,000
- Leadville Legacy Foundation (Lake Cty, CO) $1,000
- Legacy Foundation (Lake Cty, IN) *Offers 3 types of scholarships: 20 scholarships through 1 app ranging in awards + Lily Endowment Fund full tuition/fees/book stipend for 4 years + External Scholarships they manage funds for but applications are through external sources they provide a booklet on.
How Do You Find a Niche or Local Scholarship?
Stay Away From Large Scholarship Search Engines
Avoid relying too heavily on “Top-rated Sites,” like Peterson’s, Unigo, Fastweb, Cappex, Chegg, The College Board, Niche, Scholarships.com, CollegeNet.com, Zinch.com, and Scholarship Monkey.
- Filtering tools on some of these sites is non-existent or not adequate. So you may have to sift through all scholarships, making it easy to get lost and overwhelmed. Not very productive!
- You’ll be filling out lots of profiles/surveys/creating accounts, which leads to junk mail overload. If you’re going to use these, privacy and college experts suggest you create a separate email for this purpose in order to avoid becoming a target for marketers.
- You’ll get sweepstakes pop-ups, which equal spam as well as loan solicitations.
- These sites depend upon the individual scholarship providers to update their scholarships, so much of the information is outdated.
- According to Money Magazine, If there’s no requirement for an essay or grade information or a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the chances are greater that there’s a company behind the scholarship seeking information about teenagers and their parents.
Ask Advice From Your School’s Guidance Office
Check out your school guidance website as well as other high school websites, your boss, your parents’ boss, a coach, extended family connections. Ask for specific niche scholarships based on your unique criteria you share and ask them for local ones only offered in your area.
Google Specific Local or Niche Scholarships by Name of Niche
Try to use specific search terms, (ex. Learning disability scholarships). For even more results, combine locations with a niche. For example, Oklahoma residents that have an LD can apply for the Dream Institute Higher Education Assistance Program.
Focus on smaller, multi-qualification, multi-component scholarships (with essays), and it will be easy to see a 25% ROI (20 apps results in 5 wins = $15k).
How Do You Prepare for Applying to Scholarships?
First, gather any documents you may be asked for ahead of time. Then, keep all documents and other application components in one place—like a binder or digital spreadsheet—and organize the scholarships you find by their due dates.
Here’s what documentation you might need:
- High school transcript (be aware of school summer office hours when requesting transcripts)
- College transcript (for high school students, don’t forget Dual Enrollment transcripts and be prepared to pay for official sealed copies)
- Recommendation letters (request during the school year, so you can get them before summer)
- Copies of all high school and college awards
- Copies of IEP/504 Plan/College faculty proof of disability letter
- Copies of one family member’s military forms, including DD214 or DD1300 or VA Disability paperwork
- Copy of student birth certificate and driver’s license
- Student’s social security number
- ACT/SAT/SAT Subject test scores printed out
- Copy of college acceptance letters
- Essays (staple the specific essays to each corresponding scholarship application, or info page if it’s done online, and write any login for an online app on the top of that page)
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