Funding college is no small feat. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though.
If you’re an engaged student, start your search early and leave no stone unturned, it is possible to fund college entirely on scholarships, or grants and scholarships.
But where do you find these scholarships? Let’s turn over some stones.
How To Find Scholarships for College
Before you start googling, you’re going to want to prepare for your scholarship search.
There are two extremely important steps to complete before you start filling out applications.
1. Write a Scholarship Resume
When you’re looking for scholarships, it’s a good idea to prepare a scholarship resume. This is not something you must turn in to anyone else. Rather, it’s a document that will help you identify potential scholarship opportunities in your search.
The idea behind a scholarship resume is that you’re identifying all the worthy, unique and interesting parts of yourself. If you have good grades, that goes on your scholarship resume. If you’re religious, that part of your identity goes on the resume.
So do things like your race, ethnicity, and gender. Whether you’re third-string on the forensics team or the star quarterback, extracurricular activities go on there, too.
Now you have a list of things that organizations could potentially give you money for. Hold onto it and use it as you commence your search. As you’re asking people for recommendation letters for your scholarships, you may also want to furnish them with your scholarship resume to alert them to or refresh their memory on your many talents, interests, and accomplishments.
2. Fill Out the FAFSA
If you are going to school in the near future, you must fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA can provide you with access to grants — such as the Pell Grant, FSEOG and TEACH grants — which you will not have to repay. It also is a mandatory step in the process before your school will offer you any institutional aid.
You can fill out the FAFSA online starting on October 1 before your fall semester. That means if you were applying for the 2021/22 school year, you could fill out the FAFSA starting October 1, 2021. Filling out the FAFSA used to be a laborious process, but since tax records are now digitized it’s far simpler for most filers.
Local Scholarships for College
You’ve filled out the FAFSA. Drafted your scholarship resume. Now you’re ready to start your search.
It’s a good idea to start looking at the hyperlocal level. Scholarships at this level tend to have less competition because the pool of eligible candidates tends to be inherently limited.
Your High School Guidance Counselor
The most obvious way to start your scholarship search is by tapping your guidance counselor.
High schools usually keep a list of scholarships specifically for this purpose. These scholarships may be offered by alumni, local organizations or even national organizations. Take note of the ones you qualify for and apply.
Your College’s Financial Aid Office
Your school’s financial aid office should have a physical or digital binder full of scholarships for you to browse, too.
You may be automatically offered scholarships as a part of your institutional aid package after filling out the FAFSA. But by taking initiative and going through the binder, you’ll find additional opportunities available to you as a student.
Your Parent’s Employer
Many employers offer scholarships not only to their employees but also to their employees’ children.
If you have a job, you may be able to get college money from your employer, but don’t forget to check with mom and dad, too. And don’t stop at their employer; look for any opportunities that may exist with your/their union or other professional organization.
Neighborhood and Community Organizations
Think about the local Lions or Rotary Club. These organizations give away scholarships which are frequently underapplied for, perhaps because so few people pursue them, but also because the competition is limited as the geographic residence locations are typically pretty tight.
Volunteer at your local animal shelter? They may offer a scholarship, too. Same with the neighborhood rec center, the refugee organization your volunteer with or your local religious congregation.
Local Colleges & Universities
You don’t necessarily have to look at the school you attend to get a scholarship.
Look at schools in your area of residency. Some scholarships offered by schools are available to community members regardless of where they study.
Academic & Extracurricular Organizations
If you’re in an honors society, kill it on the swim team or started an American Sign Language club at your school, these efforts could earn you a scholarship. Look over your scholarship resume as you brainstorm.
Then, check with local branches of national organizations that concentrate on your extracurriculars and academics. If there’s not a scholarship available on the local level, there may be one available on the regional or even the national level.
State-Level Scholarships for College
State-level scholarships are more prolific than you may think.
While state-level organizations — even nongovernmental — may offer scholarships, there’s money waiting for you at the state capital, too.
Your State’s Department of Higher Education
After you fill out the FAFSA, you should be prompted to fill out the application for your state’s department of higher education. If you don’t receive this prompt, go directly to your state’s department of higher education and fill out the financial assistance application.
Usually, this results in the issuance of grants to students who are economically disadvantaged. However, some states also offer scholarships through this government agency.
If you are not organically offered a scholarship opportunity, it’s okay to reach out and ask if any exist. Some states are better than others about making this information available on their websites.
The State School System
If you’re going to a state school, you will want to check the state school system in its entirety to see if it has any scholarship opportunities unique from those offered at your college or university. Odds are, it does.
These scholarships may even be available to you as a state resident even if you’re not going to a state school. Every organization issuing the scholarship will set its own parameters; all college students would be wise to see if there are any they qualify for even if they’re not hopeful.
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation
If you have a disability — physical or invisible — you may be able to get college funding through your state’s department of vocational rehabilitation. If your state participates and funds its program, it can issue money to the disabled to directly cover tuition and other costs of higher education.
Some states offer full funding. Other states offer partial funding. Yet others will pay for your entire schooling, but only if they have the money on hand. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start talking with someone in this office as early as possible. If the money is first-come, first-serve, you don’t want to be last in line.
This governmental office can help with your schooling in other ways, too.
They can work with you to help you self-advocate and gain access to the accommodations you need to attend school, all while working to ensure that you either don’t have to pay for it out of pocket or that you are issued extra funding to cover the expenses of making an inaccessible educational program accessible.
National Scholarships for College
Now that you’ve exhausted the less competitive sources for scholarships, you’re ready to look at the larger national pool. Perhaps unsurprisingly, you should apply many of the same tactics to your national scholarship search as you did to your local ones.
You will want to look at professional organizations, though this time look at those you aspire to join after you’ve earned your degree rather than the ones you or your parents participate in currently.
If you belong to local recreational or extracurricular clubs that have national chapters, look for scholarships there just like you did in your own community.
For the national search, though, you will want to make extra sure you pull out that scholarship resume. All the unique and perhaps “weird” things you’ve recorded about yourself can now be used to perform an online search. You’d be surprised at the things you can earn scholarships for.
There are literally scholarships for left-handed people, Trekkies, and Rhianna fans native to the Caribbean. If you don’t find something out there for you, you likely just need to look harder.
Scholarship Search Engines
You can, of course, use Google to find your scholarships. But you may also want to use a dedicated scholarship search engine. You’ve undoubtedly heard of FastWeb, but you can also use other free resources such as the Department of Labor’s free scholarship search engine.
Just because a search engine is paid doesn’t mean it’s disreputable. You should be hyper-cautious when any app or website asks you for a fee just to search.
Many are, in fact, looking to take your money above all else. But there are examples of paid scholarship search engines offering users real value, like Scholly.
Avoid Scholarship Scams
If the organization granting the scholarship asks you for an application fee, all the alarm bells in your head should start ringing. There are circumstances where paying a fee may be normal.
For example, maybe you have to join the professional organization issuing the scholarship as a student member, and that membership comes with a fee.
That’s all well and good, but make sure you’re only doing this for reputable organizations with which you, your guidance counselor or professional mentor are familiar.
In general, if the organization is asking for money from scholarship applicants, you should turn and walk the other way. There is no shortage of scholarships out there to pay for school. You just have to turn over a few more rocks to find the next good one.