Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for college - it's free money. It's why we list scholarships as our #1 option on our list of Ways To Pay For College.
But trying to find college scholarships is no easy task. With tuition prices being so high many local scholarships have stiff competition and when looking for scholarships online you have to weed through layers of junk to find the legitimate ones to apply for.
Even though trying to find scholarships can be a pain it’s something you should most definitely do. You might be surprised - the competition might not really be as tough as you think. And if you systematize your application process, you can apply for a lot of scholarships in a little time.
Here's what you need to know about finding college scholarships.
What Kind of Scholarships Are Available and How Do I Find Them?
There are several different type of scholarships. Some scholarships are merit based, meaning your grades need to be kept to a certain level to receive them or you need to show exceptional performance in something such as a sport or extra-curricular.
Other types are awarded based on location, income, demographic (such as being a certain age), or degree based. While trying to find scholarships it’s important that you look for the ones in which you actually qualify for.
Here are some of the best strategies for finding college scholarships.
Like this infographic? You can find a printable version here: Infographic Download.
Have Your Parents Check with Their Employer
There are many employers that will award scholarships to the children of their employees. Have your parents check in with the HR department at work.
Here are just a few places that do have scholarship programs for children of their employees:
- Federal Offices
If you’re currently employed it’s also a good idea to check in with your employer to see if scholarships are offered.
Try Your Financial Aid Office
Your financial aid office will be able to give you information on different types of scholarships from federal agencies, state agencies, work study, and other campus scholarships.
After checking with your parents’ employer your financial aid office should be the next step.
Note: your school's financial aid office is typically first-come, first-serve. It's important that you apply early, and fill out the FAFSA. If you don't fill out the FAFSA, you won't be eligible for any scholarships from your school.
Also, if you're declined early on, you might check back in the summer after people have made their decisions to enroll. Some people who were offered scholarships may decline enrollment, opening up access to more funds which you could be awarded.
Check with Community and Religious Organizations
Many community and religious organizations offer scholarships locally. This includes sport teams, churches, and even local restaurants. While the sums of these scholarships might be low they still help and are worth applying to.
Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Free Scholarship Search Tool
When it comes to finding scholarships online scams are plentiful. One way to prevent getting scammed is to use the US Department of Labor’s Free Scholarship Search Tool.
You can use this website to search for scholarships based on state, study level, and affiliation. This makes finding more scholarships you might be eligible for easy.
Check with Professional Organizations
If you are going into college with a specific career in mind then it might be worth it to go ahead and join the professional organization in your niche. Almost every career field has a professional organization and most are free or inexpensive to join. And best of all, a lot of professional organizations award scholarships!
Here are just a few professional organizations that offer scholarships:
- The American Bar Association
- The American Marketing Association Foundation
- The National Women’s Study Association
- The National Society of Professional Engineers
Also, make sure you check out these massive lists:
Search on Scholarship Sites
Bold.org is a free website where you can find scholarships, internships and more. When you create an account you’ll be able to search for scholarships based on your interest, degree, location, and skills. Since you can customize your searches you’ll be far more likely to find scholarships that you actually qualify for.
Check out this list of other Scholarship Search Websites.
Try State Based Grants
You can find state based scholarships and grants in our guide here: Student Loans and Financial Aid by State. Just click on your state and see if there is anything available for you.
State based grants come in the form of free financial aid. Some states will require that you complete the FAFSA to see if you qualify to receive a grant. Other states will require that you complete a different application. You should be able to get more information on the requirements at your college’s financial aid office.
Here are some of the different types of state based grants available:
Needs Based Grants – These are awarded based on financial need.
Merits Based Grants – These type of grants are awarded to those who exhibit above average performance. This could be in the form of extra-curricular activities, such as being a star athlete, or academic performance.
Some states also award a hybrid of needs/merit based grants.
High Need Fields of Study – Your state may award grants to students studying in high need STEM fields.
Student with Disabilities – You may also find special state grants, and even scholarships, if you have a disability.
It’s important to note that most state grants are awarded on a first come, first serve basis so make sure you get your application in on time.
Make Sure You Fill Out a FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, should be one of the first things you worry about. The FAFSA can help you get college grants and can be used as an application for certain state grants as well.
With the FAFSA you may be able to qualify for the following federal grants:
- Federal Pell Grants
- (FSEOG) Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
- (TEACH Grants) Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
What to Watch Out For
There are tons of legitimate scholarships and grants you can apply for. While you should take your time and apply for as many scholarships as possible you also want to be on the lookout for scams. As a general rule of thumb you should never pay an application fee and be wary of scholarships services that guarantee success. You also shouldn’t pay for a list of scholarships. If you look in the right places you can find scholarships yourself.
If after applying for scholarships you’re still left with a hefty tuition bill be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Student Loan Debt for everything you need to know to make intelligent student financing decisions. And you also may be eligible for student loan forgiveness based on your degree so be sure to check that out too.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared toward anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
Editor: Clint Proctor Reviewed by: Chris Muller