How Do I Find Scholarships?

Applying for scholarships is a great way to help offset the cost of your college education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, average annual college costs are approximately $14,300 at public institutions, $37,800 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,300 at private for-profit institutions. Multiplied by the number of years it takes to get a degree, and it’s obvious that even the smallest scholarship awards will help. Read on for a guide about how to find the scholarship awards that are right for you.

High School and College Resources

If you’ve already selected the college you’ll be attending, their financial aid office is an excellent place to start researching scholarship awards that may be available. Most colleges have specific funds that are benchmarked for students in various programs, of certain ethnicities, or other criteria. If you’re not sure where you’ll be going yet and are still in high school, check in with your guidance counselor. He or she may be able to provide resources to jump start your search.

Scholarship Databases

With the advent of the web, it’s easier than ever to search for scholarship opportunities. However, it can be challenging to sort through the seemingly infinite number of scholarship databases in existence. One good place to start is USA Today’s list of the top sites to search for scholarship awards, accessible online. Keep in mind that there are scholarship scams out there. If a site requires you to pay money or give credit card information to either access listings or apply for awards, steer clear.

Think Locally

Your community may have scholarship funds earmarked for exceptional students from local schools. Look into any possibilities offered by community groups, the PTA, and religious organizations. In addition, parents should find out whether their employer offers scholarship opportunities and whether their child qualifies.

Consider Your Chosen Profession

If you’ve already chosen a major, look into opportunities offered by professional organizations in that field. Many have scholarship funds available for budding new talent. This is especially true if you’re unique for that specific profession; for example, if you’re a woman entering a profession that is traditionally male-dominated. In addition to your professional aspirations, think about what makes you unique. Play an instrument? Excel in an unusual activity or sport? There’s probably a scholarship out there that caters to you.

Once you’ve found some opportunities to apply for, staying organized can make the whole process much easier. Gather all the materials you’ll need, such as transcripts and recommendations, and keep them in a central file so you can reference them easily. Experts recommend applying for as many awards as possible–no matter how small–since even a few hundred dollars can help pay for books or supplies. In addition to scholarships, you should also fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year. You may be surprised with the amount of financial aid you qualify for, and scholarships can be an important part of your financial aid package; in addition, some colleges use this information to give out merit-based awards along with need-based awards.