Like many things with the college process, searching for scholarships can be overwhelming. However, if you start early and stay organized, you can obtain the money you need to close the gap between your college savings and educational expenses. What does that mean? Well, it can put you closer to graduating from college debt-free.
So, where do you start? Follow these 6 steps to find the scholarship money you need to obtain your educational goals.
1. Get organized. Once you join scholarship databases (more on that below), you may be overwhelmed with emails. Create an email account and use it exclusively for your scholarship search. Set a reminder in your calendar to check it at least once a week. You should also organize the scholarships you intend to apply for by using a spreadsheet. College Mindset’s Scholarship Tracker will help keep you organized (and it is free!).
2. Think about you. The next step to generating a list of scholarships to apply to is to think about all of the things that make you, well you. Then, use a search engine (like Google) to see what is out there. Are you an only child? Google “only child + scholarships.” Are you a female interested in engineering? Google “female engineering + scholarships.” Make a list of the following:
• Extracurricular activities: volunteer, Editor of the school newspaper, Scout member, leader in religious youth groups, etc.
• Personal Interest: animal rights activists, engineering, entrepreneurship, future teacher, beekeeper, etc.
• Personal talents: artist, musician, performer, glassblower, runner, giving speeches, etc.
• Personal characteristics: red hair, tall, short, left-handed, etc.
3. Look local. The next step is to generate a list of available local scholarships. Ask your school counselor what scholarships are available through your city, county, or state. Also, ask if local organizations offer scholarships (i.e., Knights of Columbus, etc.). Check with your parents to know if they are affiliated with potential scholarship awarding sources. For example, their employer, military status, first-responder status, church or religious affiliation, college alumni association, etc., may all offer scholarship opportunities.
4. Find major corporation scholarships. Another source for outside scholarships is major corporations. Most have scholarships offered that students can apply for (though some can be competitive). You should also ask your parents and relatives if the companies they work for offer scholarships.
5. Use scholarship search engines. There are hundreds of outside scholarship search engines. You need to create a profile on each website, then keep track of which scholarships are designated as “matches.” The number one rule for using a scholarship search engine is that you should never have to enter credit card information or pay a fee. Also, be sure to only sign up for a few, so you are not overwhelmed with options. Some recommended sites include:
• Going Merry– this database not only matches you with scholarships, but it also provides a common application. You can apply to hundreds of scholarships straight from their website.
• Fast Web– one of the more popular scholarship search sites. You can find and organize your scholarship search through their database.
• Scholarships.com– this site has a free database you can search without creating a profile. This is a great site to look for corporate scholarships.
• FinAid.org– provides scholarship search information and information regarding other types of financial aid. They have several helpful calculators to help you figure out how much college will really cost.
• Scholarship Monkey– gives you 3 ways to search for scholarships: through a personalized search, keyword search, or looking through lists.
6. Start early and keep looking: Most students do not begin looking for scholarships until their senior year of high school. I find that most seniors are too overwhelmed with the college application process to begin looking for outside scholarships. You can start looking (and in some cases even applying) for scholarships in 9th grade. You should also continue to look for scholarships while you are a college student. When you arrive on your college campus, head to the financial aid office and ask about scholarships available to current students. Once you declare a major, you may also be eligible to receive scholarships from your academic department.
Remember, every penny counts! Looking for scholarships is work! I challenge you to have at least 15 to 20 scholarships you want to apply for by the time you begin your senior year of high school. Take the time to set yourself up for success! Your future self will thank you!