The first thing to know about scholarships is that you are probably eligible for some of them. They are not just for high-flying academic achievers or exceptionally needy students. Find out how you might qualify!
College scholarships are awards of money to help you pay for college. Award amounts range from a few hundred dollars to "full" scholarships that pay all college expenses. But the best thing about scholarships is that every scholarship dollar reduces your college expenses!
How to Deserve a Scholarship
There are just about countless ways to qualify for scholarships. Although decent grades are usually important, leadership, talent, and community service are often just as critical. You can also win awards based on your major, your career plans, your city or state residence, or your commitment to military service. Your financial need may also be a consideration. Since there are so many ways to qualify and there is an incredible range of providers, scholarships are accessible to a wide range of students.
Where to Find Scholarships
One handy way to look for scholarships is to look "inside" and "outside" the college. Inside the college are scholarships administered by the college. In some cases, a college may give you a scholarship as part of your financial aid package. In other cases, you must apply for it.
Outside the college are scholarships offered by everyone else, including companies, the military, foundations, and organizations. In most cases, you must apply or get nominated, and compete with other students. Some scholarships have simple application procedures, such as writing a short essay. Others require nearly as much paperwork as a college application. Weigh the potential reward carefully against the time you can spare to apply.
Ask the Colleges on Your Application List
Almost all colleges offer scholarships to attract a talented and diverse student body. In fact, your chances of winning a scholarship from your college may be better than winning one from an outside sponsor.
Check with the admissions and financial aid offices at your target colleges to find out how to apply for scholarships, and what the requirements are. Applying may be as simple as checking a box on your college application form or as complex as an entirely separate screening process.
Financial need may or may not be a factor, but academic achievement is always important. The better your grades compare with those of students the college typically admits, the better your chances. And of course you must attend the college to actually get the money.
Some college-based scholarships are specialized. If you know your major, check with the relevant department to find out about scholarships in your field. If you are interested in an athletic scholarship, be aware that they are awarded through the NCAA sports recruiting process. Check with ncaa.com.
Go Scholarship Treasure Hunting
Thousands of outside scholarship sponsors look for students to award every year. Believe it or not, some of them don't get enough qualified applications! For example, one student applied for an award offered by a local heritage club. She was the only qualified person to apply, and she received $6,000 over four years.
Here are some organizations which typically offer scholarships:
- Corporations, especially local businesses and your parents' employers
- Religious groups
- Unions, a major source of scholarship money
- Chambers of Commerce, which can also help you search for other community sources
- Community and service organizations, many of which have state and local chapters
- Clubs, foundations, and associations, which can be based on heritage, professions, hobbies—you name it
- City, county, and state education offices
- Your high school and school district
The easiest way to find national or regional scholarships is to use an online search tool. CollegeData's Scholarship Finder can help you locate such scholarships. For local scholarships offered by sponsors in your community, check with your high school counselor, library, and chamber of commerce. Local scholarships can be easier to win, since the competition is less.
Get in the Running for National Merit Scholarships
You've probably heard of the National Merit Scholarship, which is worth $2,500 a year. To be eligible, you must take the PSAT in your junior year of high school. High scorers who qualify as semifinalists must then meet academic and other standards to advance to the finalist level. Winners are selected based on criteria such as volunteer participation, teacher recommendations, high school grades, and the rigor of courses taken.
Find out more in CollegeData's article The Scoop on National Merit Scholarships or at nationalmerit.org.
Check Out Generous College Money Offered by the Military
Through the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program, the Army, Navy, and Air Force offer full college scholarships. The student must agree to serve in the sponsoring branch of the military for a certain number of years after graduation. These scholarships are very competitive. They are not available at all colleges and may depend on your major. The military understandably favors majors that will benefit its mission, such as engineering or nursing. Find out more in CollegeData's article ROTC Scholarships or at military.com/education.
Finding scholarships right for you will take time and patience, but your search may very well pay great dividends in the end.
Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.