How to Find Scholarships to Help Pay for College

The question of "how do I find scholarships to help me pay for college" is one that high school seniors have been asking for several decades. What has changed in the last few years is that this question is now being asked by high school students at all grade levels and many college students as well.  

Where to Start

As with many projects, getting started can be half the battle. The first recommendation is all about organization. Create a list of all the extracurricular activities in which you have been involved, the honors and awards you have received, volunteer opportunities in which you have participated, and any jobs you have held.  Many scholarship opportunities require one or more letters of reference. Take time to think about two to three individuals who know you well and would be willing to write a letter of recommendation. This could be a teacher, coach, volunteer coordinator or supervisor.  

Get Prepared

Another first step is determining a method that works best for you in keeping track of due dates for scholarships. You can use an electronic calendar on a smart device or a simple paper calendar.

A final recommendation in the preparation phase would be to create a separate email address for use in scholarship searches. This can be accomplished at no cost by using a product such as Google's Gmail. Having a separate address will keep your personal inbox from being flooded. It will also provide continuity for students who rely solely on a school-provided email address that will most likely be inactivated once the student leaves the school.

Finding Scholarships

I recommend signing up for a scholarship search engine where you are able to enter your demographic information, academic accomplishments and extracurricular activities. Fastweb is probably the best known of these search engines with more than a million scholarships in its database. The profile you create matches scholarship opportunities in their database and you receive notifications about those scholarships.

For high school juniors and seniors, a visit to the Guidance Office (or their website) to learn more about local and regional scholarships is necessary. Many local scholarship opportunities are shared with the guidance office and/or the school's scholarship foundation. In other communities, there may be a Scholarship America chapter that distributes local scholarships. Don't forget to check with the clubs and organizations where you have membership and any places where you are employed. Let's not forget about checking with your parents' employers and any places where your parents conduct business (lenders, utility providers, insurance companies just to name a few). Local scholarships will usually have fewer applicants, so these are a good place to concentrate your efforts.

After you have begun your search, you may realize that there are more potential opportunities out there than you could ever apply for in your free time! If you need to narrow down the possibilities, look to apply for the scholarships where you best meet the eligibility criteria. Pay attention to deadlines and tackle those applications with the soonest deadlines first.  For those scholarships that require one or more references, ask yourself if your reference would have enough time to write a letter that would be a positive asset to your application. Keep in mind that reference letters can actually be a detriment to one's application if they are written poorly or appear to be written in haste. As you evaluate scholarship applications to complete, look at those opportunities that require more effort from an application perspective. Many will pass on these for simpler application processes that means your chances of winning are higher. Finally, don't overlook lower dollar scholarships in favor of those that cover full tuition. A scholarship that is worth a couple hundred dollars can still help pay for books or reduce the amount of loan money one needs to borrow.

As with any work you submit, proofreading is essential. Double-check spelling and grammar in all of your application materials. Be sure that you have submitted all necessary documents that may be required and keep copies of any correspondence.

Beware of Fraud

A final word of advice is to be on the lookout for fraud. Do not pay for scholarships searches and be wary of offers that guarantee a financial return. Bypass applications that require social security numbers or full birth dates as these are a means to identity theft. When in doubt, move on to the next opportunity as plenty of legitimate scholarships are out there. Best wishes!