College Scholarship Money

There’s no doubt about it, college tuition costs are on the rise!  In today’s economic environment, parents are encouraging their college-bound students to search for college scholarship money to help defray the cost of college.

How do I find scholarships? Before I dive into the details of which free scholarship searches are out there and how to make the most of your scholarship search, the first thing that you need to understand is that finding scholarships is hard work!  There are no short cuts.  You have to be committed to finding scholarships that apply to you, filling out the application, seeking additional letters of recommendation, and writing additional essays.  Studies show that a ton of money is left on the table each year because students just aren’t applying.  Don’t be like a lot of other students, make seeking college scholarship money a priority.

In this article, I’m going to give you a step-by-step, fool-proof approach to finding, applying for, and receiving college scholarship money.

Step 1: Start as early as your sophomore year. Although you won’t be able to start applying until your senior year, most scholarships are recurring.  Now would be a great time to start signing up for various free college scholarship search engines.  (Don’t worry, I’ll provide you with a listing later on in the post.)  This will help you identify which scholarships you’ll likely be eligible for and what each individual scholarship will require.

Step 2: Which types of scholarships are available? There are several types of scholarships available.  Here are some examples:

a) Academic-Based Scholarships – These types of scholarship are based mainly on your GPA.  They are also known as merit-based scholarships.  In order to be eligible for these types of scholarships, you generally need a 3.0 or higher.  A copy of your transcripts is usually required to apply.  I recommend requesting a few transcripts at a time from your high school, as you will likely need these for other types of scholarships as well.

b) Cultural-Based Scholarships – These types of scholarships are based on your ethnicity or cultural background.  Certain scholarships are targeted towards Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, etc.

c) Subject-Based Scholarships – These types of scholarships are based on your anticipated field of study in college.  You should read the “Choosing A College Major” post to help you narrow your focus down on specific fields of study.  Science and Engineering are typically two popular fields where students can find related scholarships.

d) Interests-Based Scholarships – These types of scholarships are generally related to hobbies or extracurricular activities, such as intramural sports, clubs, or other organizations.

e) Need-Based Scholarships (i.e. Grants) – These type of scholarships, also known as grants, are strictly based on financial need.  The students who need the most financial help usually get these types of scholarships; GPA typically does not play a role.  Some of these grants require a copy of the FAFSA.

f) Essay-Based Scholarships – These types of scholarships, also known as writing competitions, are awarded based on your written communications skills.  Awards are given to students who write the best essay on various topics. These writing competitions may require a bit more time and effort, but it’s work it.

Step 3: Where Can I Search? There are a lot of good FREE scholarship search engines that are available.  You should never pay money to sign-up for a scholarship search engine!  Each free search engine will ask a variety of different questions in order to try to match you up to scholarships as accurately as possible.  It’s important that you take the time to answer each question thoroughly so that you can get the best results.  Here is a list of websites:


Step 4: Learn how to WIN Scholarships! Watch this short video to find out how.

Step 5: Create Scholarship Calendar. Creating a calendar that has all of your scholarship goals on it will help keep you on track.  Set specific dates that you will have specific application materials complete and stick to it.  You should spend about 10-12 hours a week on scholarship applications.  Here’s a sample of what your calendar can look like.

February 15th – Start figuring out who you will ask for letters of recommendation.  Notify these individuals so that they know that you plan to apply to multiple scholarships and may need their assistance on more than one of them.  If you’ve built a good relationship with them, then this should be no problem and they will appreciate the advanced notice.

March 1st – Search for scholarships and mark the deadlines on your scholarship calendar

March 15th – Complete 3 scholarships by this date (1-3)

April 1st – Complete 3 scholarships by this date (4-6)

April 15th – Complete 3 scholarships by this date (7-9)

May 1st – Complete 3 scholarships by this date (10-12)

May 15th – Follow-up on scholarship applications submitted

June 1st – Send out thank you letters for scholarships that you received

June 15th – Contact the financial aid department at your college so that they know to expect scholarship funds on your behalf

Step 6: Fill out the FAFSA. The deadline for completing the FAFSA is in March.  The FAFSA will let you know if you qualify for financial aid right away.  The FAFSA will also give you information on federal work study programs and student loan eligibility.  Also, as previously mentioned, some need-based scholarship organizations use these results as a means to verify that students do indeed come from low income families.  The sooner you can fill out the FAFSA, the better.

Here’s a link to get to the FAFSA application:  Read my FAFSA Form and Fill Out FAFSA post to learn more about how to complete the application.

If you follow this specific format that I’ve just laid out before you, I’m positive that it will only be a matter of time before you are awarded college scholarship money.

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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