What is the best way to find scholarships?

By Suzanne Shaffer

Every student wants scholarships, but not every student gets them.

Knowing how and where to look can make the difference between attending college debt-free or graduating with massive student loans.

Whether your student is in high school, already attending college, or considering graduate school, scholarships are available and waiting to be found and awarded. You can’t win any if you don’t apply, and you can’t apply if you don’t know where to look.

Share these suggestions with your student to help them learn how and where to look for scholarships!

Scholarship search engines

Scholarship search engines will alert students to scholarship opportunities that match the student’s interests, demographics, etc. Be sure to provide accurate personal information as this determines the matches. Most search engines will email your student with matches on a regular basis. These databases list scholarships available for every age group and every educational pursuit. 

Go local

Unearth local scholarships in your own community. The applicant pools for these scholarships are smaller and so your chances of winning increase. You would be surprised at the local scholarships that are often overlooked and, with no applicants, no scholarship money is disbursed. Utilize these resources as you hunt for local scholarships:

• Your guidance counselor
• Local newspapers
• Area high school websites
• Local organizations
• Your network of employers, friends and family
• Local companies
• School organizations

Local scholarships are typically not as large as national ones, but the odds of winning are greater. Besides, ten small scholarships can add up to the amount of one large one. Start the search early in high school so that when senior year comes around, you will have a list of potential local scholarship opportunities ready to go.Beware of financial aid and scholarship scams! See tips from the Federal Aid Commission here.

Merit aid

“Merit Aid” is the general term for grants, scholarships and discounts that a college awards in the financial aid package without considering financial need. Merit aid is based on several factors: academics, athletics, special talents, where the student lives, or other demographic characteristics. Merit aid is different from need-based aid (allocated based on the student’s economic situation), and not all colleges award it.

There is more than $13 billion of merit aid available to undergraduate students. Most of that, about $11 billion, comes directly from colleges. The other $2 billion is provided by state governments. Cappex lists more than 23,000 individual merit aid scholarship programs offered by more than 1,800 colleges across the country.

You can also search on the college’s website. Colleges with merit aid may offer anywhere from a few dozen opportunities to hundreds of individual programs. Some merit awards are well known and heavily advertised while others are harder to find.

Beyond college

Once you’re in college and looking ahead to a graduate degree, continue to think scholarships. Though not as widely available as undergraduate scholarships, graduate scholarships do exist.

My advice? Leave no stone unturned. Search the internet, scour social media, talk to friends and family and ask the colleges themselves. Aid is available if you do your research and apply.