College can be expensive. Prices range from a few thousand dollars a semester at a community college to over seventy thousand dollars for tuition plus room and board at top private colleges. Most schools take the philosophy that paying for college is a partnership between the school, parents and students. Using a combination of school and outside scholarships can help make your out of pocket expenses smaller.
Most private schools and some public schools will automatically consider a student for merit-based scholarships as part of the application process. Merit-based awards are based on your academic performance (courses taken, grades and test scores if applicable). Need-based grants and scholarships (based on your financial need) are awarded after you submit the FAFSA and CSS Profile, a Collegeboard form that some schools require. Some schools include scholarships with your admission letter. Others will include them in the financial aid award letter usually in winter or spring.
While top colleges have become even more competitive, many small colleges are struggling for enrollment. The birthrate is down and there are less high school graduates nationally. Smaller colleges or lesser known colleges will offer more merit aid to attract enrollment. Many colleges are beginning to meet full demonstrated need–but you have to have need. This will likely include loans. Always check with the college or university to learn their merit and need-based aid practices.
There are many organizations that offer outside scholarships. Start locally–your school counselor probably has a list of scholarships from the community foundation, Lions club, Elks, Kiwanis, or the education foundation tied to your school district. Check with your or your families’ employers–many large corporations have a charitable giving arm that offer scholarships. If your family is involved in a church, charitable organization such as American legion or Rotary, fraternity or sorority, or union take a look at their website under community relations, education, charitable giving to see if they have a scholarship.
There are many scholarship search engines. They often require you to register and will send you a lot of emails. Some of the most reputable are
Typing a search term into a browser can also bring up scholarships. Google “Scholarships for _________” and fill in your major, parents occupation, activities you plan to participate in during college or any combination. Also think about organizations you were involved with as a child like Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, YMCA and see if any offer awards.
Visit the websites of products you use regularly. Your favorite soft drink, hotel, clothing line or shoe might have a scholarship under community relations, charitable giving or education.
Start looking for scholarships your junior year of high school. Make a spreadsheet with the name, website, deadline and requirements (essay, recommendation). Many will not allow you to apply until you are senior, but you will have the information to ensure you don’t miss deadlines.
While it may not seem worth your time to apply for $500 awards–every little bit helps. Lots of little awards can equal big money. Try to spend some time each week searching for and submitting scholarship applications through the end of your senior year and even into college.