I remember when I first started working in a Financial Aid Office at a major university, parents would tell me they hired someone to help their child find, and apply to, scholarships.
Thankfully things have changed nowadays. You really don't need to pay someone to help you find scholarships anymore. The internet has made it so much easier to find virtually every scholarship out there. There are probably a dozen prominent sites devoted to helping you find scholarships.
I like to focus on just a handful of websites when looking for scholarships. Admittedly scholarships may be duplicated across each site. Each site has its own pros and cons, and each student has their own preference for which sites they like best.
Here are the websites I like to start with:
But you should understand the realities of private college scholarships.
Private scholarships are the smallest source of free money for college.
The majority of free money is given out by the Federal government. Granted this is reserved for the neediest families as determined by the FAFSA. But the next best source of free money is from the actual university itself. The breakdown of free money by resources is approximately: Federal govt (45%), universities (35%), State govt (9%), employers (7%), and private scholarships (4%).
Full-ride scholarships are very rare.
There are less than 300 private scholarships that award enough money to cover the cost of most State schools’ tuition. Less than 1% of full-time college students receive a full-ride scholarship.
Don’t ignore the smaller scholarships.
You may feel a $500 or $1,000 scholarship isn’t worth applying to. But if it only takes an hour or less to apply, that’s a pretty good return on your time invested. Also, these scholarships tend to be less competitive, so your chances could be better.
Look for local scholarships.
You might be surprised by how many local scholarships are available without you knowing it. I suggest asking your high school guidance counselor. Also check with your local civic and church organizations. Basically anything that is community based, such as the Elks or Lions club, may offer scholarships. Lastly, check with your parents’ employers.
Scholarships might reduce the financial aid award from a university.
When a university awards any amount of need-based aid (e.g. loans, work-study, or grants), the Federal govt requires them to also factor in any outside awards the student earned. Every situation is different though. Sometimes if the school did not fill the calculated need for assistance, then the private scholarship may be able to be added with no problems. But if the university did meet the calculated need, they will have to reduce their aid to fit in the private scholarship. Some schools may reduce the loans or work-study, but some schools may reduce their grant or scholarship to accommodate the outside private scholarship. Since each situation is different, and each school will have their own policies, I suggest contacting the university’s financial aid office to find out how a private scholarship may affect their financial aid award letter.
Scholarships and grants rank #1 on my order of operations for paying for college. But to maximize your scholarship funding, you must have a plan. You can't haphazardly look for scholarships and become successful at winning enough of them to pay for college.
Consider creating a spreadsheet of scholarships with their deadlines and requirements. Also, only focus on scholarships that fit you. Look for scholarships that are based on your area of study, ethnicity, gender, state, or school.
Have questions about scholarships, financial aid, or college? Be sure to contact your in-house college planner at JPSchmidt [at] MACIFS [dot] com.