The Nitty Gritty of Scholarship Searches

It can be extremely difficult to wrap your head around the idea of paying for college. Before I went to college the largest purchase I had ever made was less than $500. Spending tens of thousands of dollars on a place to stay, food, and an abstract education was difficult to comprehend. Earning scholarships is one of the primary ways students can lower costs, but finding and winning those scholarships can be even more overwhelming than your college search.

What You Need to Know

Scholarships are a tool to lowering the financial burden you place on yourself, your parents, or the bank when playing for college. Scholarships come from a business, organization, or school who is saying “I believe you can do great things and be successful, so here’s some money to put towards your education.” Sometimes, the money comes with some strings attached, like maintain a 3.5 GPA or have a major in a particular field. If you do not abide by the guidelines of the scholarship, the money is taken away.

Some of the larger scholarships expect you to get a job in a particular field or industry for a limited number of years once you graduate. If you fail to either find a job in that field or choose not to pursue that job, you may find yourself paying the donor back for the investment they made in you. For this reason, finding a scholarship that matches your career goals, interests, and passions is important.

Where to Start

The best time to start the scholarship search process would be freshman year in high school. This allows you to realize what types of activities or commitments you could be doing to be awarded scholarships. However, this thought doesn’t cross many students’ minds until junior or senior year in high school. I didn’t begin to seriously think about it until I was accepted into my current school and looked at the price. This was a little too late to do the necessary work to apply for some of the larger scholarships. I have since learned from my mistakes and am ahead of the game for the limited graduate school scholarships that are offered.

There are two places where financial assistance for attending college comes from. The first is outside sources, this includes non-profits, organizations, credit unions, banks, and businesses. The second is from the specific school one will attend.

Finding Scholarships

Start Your Scholarship Search by Making a List of Your Interests
Start Your Scholarship Search by Making a List of Your Interests

1. List your Interests. Create a list of everything you are interested in. This should include clubs, instruments, hobbies, passions, religious affiliations, and social issues. On this list, you should also write your home location, your hometown (if they are different), and your GPA. All of this information will be useful for your scholarship search.

2. Begin Your Search. Take your list of interests and begin your scholarship search by picking an interest and searching the internet. For example, if you are an avid video gamer, there are scholarships for you. Try searching your interests with the word scholarships after it. You can also search for scholarship categories for specific traits, like being left handed, having red hair, or having blue eyes.  In addition, there are scholarships for first generation college students or first generation citizens. Anything that makes you unique, there is most likely a scholarship for!

Even though there are many interest-specific scholarships available, they can be difficult to win as they are available to anyone matching the criteria. You will have to commit a decent amount of time and effort into applying for these as they typically require a topic-specific essay.

3. Do I quality for a sports scholarship? It is difficult to get a sports scholarship, especially if you are not planning on playing on a schools team. However, some schools do give away scholarships for you to play on their club teams.

If you are looking into playing in college, search much like you would with interests. For example, if you were a cross country runner in high school and wish to, search “Cross Country Scholarships.” Some scholarships may be specific for students who will go into that sport in their designated schools or for the sport in general.

4. Go local. Another great supplier of scholarships are from where you live. Many credit unions, small businesses, and other local companies offer scholarships. Look into your bank or credit union along with your parents’ banks, place of work, and other local businesses you support. You never know what type of scholarship you may come across from a local organization. These scholarships are less competitive as they are only available to those in the community.

5. What's your major? If you know your major, that’s great. You can do searches like “Physics major scholarships” or “English major scholarships.”

However, do not accept any scholarships If you’re unsure about your major. Major-specific scholarships generally have strings attached. These requirements range from working a certain number of years working in the particular field or staying that major until you graduate. I changed my major four times, so I am happy I didn’t have a major-specific scholarship. However, I have friends whom haven’t changed their major and has sported a major-specific scholarship all four years.

If you need help determining a major, try Majors Matcher.

To get a jump-start on your search we recommend using Scholarship Owl. Register for hundreds of scholarships by filling out one simple form.

6. Applying & winning scholarships. Once you’ve narrowed down your outside scholarship options, create a list with the requirements and deadlines for each one. You then must make a plan for how you will accomplish all of the applications to the best of your ability in a timely manner.

Remind yourself often of the task and set reminders. Breaking the application into smaller, achievable goals will help you stay focused and do your best.

This article can help you with the essay portion of your application.

How to Get Scholarships From Your College

1. Choose the right school. Before you even apply to a college, you should have a good idea of whether or not it's affordable for you. Check the financial aid page and look at how much they offer students in the form of grants and scholarships. Some schools are better endowed then others and therefore offer more aid and scholarship packages. College Factual has a lot of detailed information on the financial aid and scholarships available from each school as well.

2. Ask for more. Once you get accepted and receive your aid package, ask for more money. There is only one instance I would not advise asking for more money, and that is if you got a full ride with a living stipend that will pay for all of your financial needs for your four years. Which is highly improbable.

If that isn't the case, write a heartfelt email to the financial aid office asking for money. Explain why you need it and why you’re a worthy investment. Worst case scenario is that they will refuse and your initial offer will be intact. Note that you will be more successful with this method if you can demonstrate that you are a good student who will likely do well at their college. You can find some additional information on this approach here.

3. Getting additional scholarships after you're enrolled. A student's financial struggle does not disappear once he or she has been accepted and is attending school. Circumstances change and tuition rates increase. For this reason, there are a number of scholarships one can apply to as a current student. In addition, you can reach out to your school’s financial office asking for both guidance and additional support.

It is critical for you to know that you can still ask for money even while you're attending school. Once you receive your bill for the following year, it is reasonable to write an email to the school asking for more support. Again, this approach is most successful if you are at good academic and disciplinary standing.

While at school, you can also continue to apply for outside scholarships and additional assistance.

Remember, while in school it is important to maintain the standard expected by any scholarship you obtain. If you drop below this standard, or switch out of expected programs, you are running risk of losing the support and potentially having to pay back any previous support you have been given.

Overall, scholarships are a simple way to lower your education’s financial burden. Geared with these tools, you may be able to get additional support that succeeds that initially provided to you.

Sign up for hundreds of scholarships by filling out one simple form at Scholarship Owl.