When it comes to finding extra money for college funding, private scholarship money can certainly come in handy, but it won’t generally be the saving grace that so many parents and students will need to fill their tuition gap.
Keeping that in mind, there is no reason to count private scholarships out of the funding plan.
We summarized tips we’ve gotten from talking with various professionals with specialties in finding 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 have researched the colleges that are the best economic fit for you and found those colleges more generous with merit aid, to enhance your opportunity for institutional merit-based scholarships.
Additionally, colleges often offer scholarships for their Admitted Students based on other factors like major and these will require separate applications. You can find these on each college website under “financial aid.”
How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting Private Scholarships
The primary reasons to apply for private scholarships include:
1 – Institutional or merit-based scholarships (from colleges) are highly competitive with 1000s of applicants.
2 –Colleges require a student to be a top performer/tester whereas not all private scholarships do. Private scholarships do not all require you to be perfect, but that doesn’t mean a student who slacks off can expect to win one regardless!
3 – Institutional scholarships may not offer enough money to cover your total cost.
4 – Institutional scholarship offers come after college acceptances, which is late in the year, so if you don’t get any or enough, you’ve squandered time and opportunity to apply for private scholarships.
*If you know your EFC way ahead of Oct. 1st, 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 the 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.
6 – Private scholarships are stackable (can be added to each other) and portable (can go anywhere) unlike most institutional scholarships.
Can a College Take Away Your Scholarship?
There are instances when, a student who is receiving need-based financial aid wins a private scholarship, that a college will consider the award to reduce the student’s demonstrated financial need, and thus reduce the amount of financial aid. This practice, known as “scholarship displacement,” may happen. But if you cannot or do not want to write the check for what you owe then it’s a simple choice between the following (or a combination of the following):
1 – Taking out loans.
2 – Student working during school (which will raise your EFC for next year).
3 – Apply 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, nor do they require you to be a perfect applicant are: Niche & Local Scholarships.
What Is a Niche Scholarship?
A niche scholarship relates to a well-defined, specific small segment of the applicant population that possess a unique skill, attribute, or commonality that nobody else in the general applicant population will possess.
What groups of people do you think fall into both by nature and by nurture?
What role do you fill in your family, school, or community? What makes you unique? You may have a few niches you fit into but the more specific, the better odds you’ll have in attaining a scholarship. (Minority=big niche, Learning Disabled=smaller niche.)
Some niches you are born into, some you create, like volunteering. It is depth, not breadth that both admissions and scholarships will reward you for, so make sure your level of commitment is dedicated in earnest
There are charities, foundations, civic groups, and businesses that will give scholarships to specific niche students who align with their organization or corporate mission.
A. Examples of a “by nature niche” Learning Disabled (LD is not 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 $2,000
Anne Ford Thomas $10,000
Feldman Royal Law Firm $1,000
Judd S. Nemiro Law Firm $1,000
B. Examples of a “by nurture niche” Service/Volunteer (a strong service record is not the only qualification)
Prudential Spirit of Community Award $1,000-5,000
Comcast Leaders & Achievers Award $1,000
Alliant Energy Community Service $1,000
NHS Scholarship (NHS members with an outstanding service project) $2,325-20,125 FSU Service Scholar $2,400/annually (also could be under “local” category)
Kaire & Heffernan Community Scholarship for FL Students $1,000 + 500 to charity (also could be under “local” category)
What Is a Local Scholarship?
These have a limited access by location that aids in eligibility and less competition.
State – County – City
For state scholarships, check state DOE Programs website for these.
Florida Bright Futures up to full FL public college/university tuition + most fees + book stipend, which is approx. $6,000/annually
South Carolina Palmetto Fellows Scholarship up to $6,700/annually
Oregon – Ford Foundation Scholarship for Sons & Daughters of Employees of Roseburg
Forest Products Co. $3,000-5,000/annually
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.
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 get your applications to and how to get the local club to sponsor you, if needed. You can sometimes even 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
How Do You Locate a Niche or Local Scholarship?
A. Stay away from large scholarship search engine “Top-rated Sites” like: Peterson’s, Unigo, Fastweb, Cappex, Chegg, The College Board, Niche, Scholarships.com, CollegeNet.com, Zinch.com, and Scholarship Monkey.
1 – 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!
2 – 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.
3 – You’ll get sweepstakes pop-ups which equal spam as well as loan solicitations.
4 – These sites depend upon the individual scholarship providers to update their scholarships, so much of the information is outdated.
5 — 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 the there’s a company behind the scholarship that is seeking information about teenagers and their parents.
B. YES to asking advice from school guidance office. In addition, 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.
C. YES to Google specific local or niche scholarships by name of niche (ex. Learning disability scholarships, for even more results combine location with niche like Oklahoma residents that have an LD can apply for the Dream Institute Higher Education Assistance Program).
*Focus on smaller, multi-qualification, multi-component scholarships (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?
A. Organize all components in one place like a binder and organize the scholarships you find by their due dates in that binder.
B. Gather all documents you may be asked for ahead of time.
1 — High school transcript (be aware of school summer office hours when requesting transcripts).
2 — College transcript (for high school students, don’t forget Dual Enrollment transcripts and be prepared to pay for official sealed copies).
3 — Recommendation letters (request during the school year, so you can get them before summer).
4 — Copies of all high school and college awards.
5 — Copies of IEP/504 Plan/College faculty proof of disability letter.
6 — Copies of one family member’s military forms including DD214 or DD1300 or VA Disability paperwork.
7 — Copy of student birth certificate and driver’s license.
8 — Know student social security number.
9 — ACT/SAT/SAT Subject test scores printed out.
10 — Copy of college acceptance letters.
11 — Resume.
12 — 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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