Where can I look for college scholarships?

We Know: How To Get A College Scholarship

What is a college scholarship?

A college scholarship is a sum of money applied directly to your college costs that you are awarded based on academic merit, financial need, or a combination of the two. If you're going to a top college or even one of the top online colleges, chances are you will receive scholarships in some form to help you pay for your tuition, fees, books, room and board, and sometimes other minor expenses such as travel.

What's a college scholarship really worth?

There is no set sum that you can expect from college scholarships. Each scholarship is likely to come from a different source and award sums of money based on a variety of different requirements. If you receive a small scholarship from your local beauty salon, for instance, it might be worth as little as $25; if you receive a Westinghouse Science scholarship, they've historically been worth as much as $10,000 per year, enough to cover all your college costs in some cases.

Scholarships may be a one-time award, or they may extend over several semesters or years. If they are anything besides a one-time sum of money, chances are very good that you'll need to maintain a certain GPA in college to keep the scholarship; it is not guaranteed.

It's not just the cash value of a scholarship that makes it worth something to you. The receipt of prestigious merit-based scholarships, such as the National Merit Scholarship or the Westinghouse cited above, can mean the difference between getting into your college of choice or not; and these scholarships can also help ensure you're awarded other scholarships from your college of choice, if you still need financial help.

For what reason can I get scholarships?

Most people think of scholarships as rewards for straight-A students -- and that's true for a small percentage of college scholarships. But most scholarships are based on a variety of qualities and achievements: academics, standardized test scores, ethnic origin, employer, career goals, choice of major, etc. And while many scholarships are based on your merits in competition with other students, many scholarships, primarily those awarded by colleges directly, are based on financial need as well as your excellence, or just financial need by itself.

Where should I look for scholarships?

Look Online.
Scholarship search databases today hold more than a half-million scholarships you can apply for. Many won't be quite right for you, or are very small awards; but others may suit you perfectly, and every little bit of scholarship award adds up.

But don't apply to a hundred scholarships just because they're there. Instead, pick out a dozen or so that really suit your needs and attributes, and fill out the best application you possibly can for those.

Look In Your Own Backyard.
What do the Knights of Columbus, your local fire department, your local newspaper, and the power plant have in common? All of them may award scholarships to college-bound students in your area.

To find these scholarships, you'll need to look. Read your local paper, especially the community news where they put pictures of students who've received awards. Call local civic agencies like the Lion's Club or Rotary Club and ask if they sponsor any college scholarships. And call your newspaper, your television station, and large employers in your community to ask the same question. Have your parents ask their employers if there are special scholarships for children of employees, too. Even McDonald's provides small scholarships.

Speak With Your College of Choice
By talking to the admissions office of the college you want to attend, you may be able to get some leads on scholarships that are specific to students who want to attend this college. Besides this, you'll let the admissions office know when you speak to them how serious you are about attending college there, and they will probably give you even more help.

If you're going to struggle financially when you go to college, let the admissions office know this. And especially with highly-selective schools, there are programs in place to help anyone who really wants to attend college pay for it. Your admissions office will know how to get that money.

In Your Essay, Focus On Yourself

A scholarship is often awarded in a very subjective manner. Our research of websites related to essays indicates that many awards committees, faced with three kids they really like, choose the one they like the best. And they determine that feeling based primarily on your essay.

Other advice we have garnered indicates that is is often best to plan out what you're going to say, and be sincere, rather than polished; in fact, too much polish can work against you if it makes you sound insincere. If possible, tell a story about yourself, with description and scenery, and use it to show how that experience changed you in a way that makes you a great candidate for college.

Each awards committee is different. But every committee will be impressed if you make certain your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are flawless.


You can find scholarships through books and websites such as the following:

  • Scholarship Handbook 2006 (or the College Board Scholarship Handbook): This book, distributed by the College Board, gives you qualifications and deadlines for thousands of different reputable scholarships.
  • Get Free Cash for College: Secrets to Winning Scholarships -- written by Harvard scholarship winners, this book lists tips and tricks for getting scholarships as well as thousands of scholarships you can apply for.
  • This isnít a book, but at www.iefa.org, you can find the hardest to find type of scholarships: those for students preparing to study abroad.

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