How I Find Scholarships: Real Student Stories and Advice

Students share their hard-earned advice for finding and winning college scholarships.

Students share their hard-earned advice for finding and winning college scholarships.

Hope Smith

CollegeXpress Student Writer
Higbee, Missouri
Class of 2018


As you go through high school, your undergraduate program, or even graduate school, you will probably always be looking for scholarships. Always.

There are tons of different places you can find scholarships, and there are literally billions of dollars in awards out there. Scholarships can be unique to you or your intended career. For me, looking for scholarships takes up a lot of my time.

I live in a small town called Higbee, Missouri. My father is the superintendent of a construction company’s local district, and my mother runs a daycare out of our home. Both of them have pushed me and my older sister to further ourselves in college (and they will probably do the same with my younger sister and brother!). My parents also know college can be rather expensive and that we will need help paying for it—but made it clear they won’t fork over a penny. It’s on us to pay for college ourselves.

Related: The Best Scholarship Search Websites, Books, and More

After applying for financial aid, there are many student loans out there to fill in the college cost gaps. However, if you’re like me and don’t qualify because of household income and/or you don’t want to go in debt, you need to find scholarships. Luckily, it doesn’t take much time to find and fill out most scholarships. It’s free money to help further your education! Why wouldn’t you apply?

Anyway, here’s how I find scholarships—and how you can too!

Working with my guidance counselor

I talk to my school guidance counselor about where to find scholarships, and she also offers information about local scholarships I will qualify for next year, as I am only a junior.

Every senior in our high school who plans on going to college can go to our counselor and ask questions about finding scholarships or get help filling them out. She even offers a workshop once a month for you to get help on your scholarships (or anything else students need, such as help filling out a résumé).

Use different scholarship search sites

While looking for scholarships, I use many sites like CollegeXpress, Unigo, Cappex, and others. These sites are very easy to use, and they all offer different scholarships. I hardly ever see the same scholarships while looking amongst these search sites. They also offer a different way of narrowing down which scholarships are best for you and are really helpful.

Most of the scholarships I apply for require 250–400 word essays. They are fairly easy to do, but you have to get to the point quickly and make a good impression in not many words.

Related: How to Conquer the Scholarship Essay

The thing about grades and scholarships…

Some scholarships will ask about your grades in school, but don’t be afraid to apply for them if your grades aren’t perfect. Just because a scholarship asks for your transcript doesn’t mean they are automatically rewarding the “smartest” applicant. (Editor’s note: yes! This is so true!!!)

That being said, having good grades will definitely help your scholarship search and can often lead to academic scholarships from potential colleges. My sister is a senior in high school, and though she hasn’t applied for many scholarships, she received a full-tuition scholarship to the school she plans to attend in the fall! So keep trying hard in your high school classes to get the best grades you can.

Finally, this might go without saying, but it’s also important to tell the absolute truth about your grades, because the people reading the scholarship applications will check up on that.

Diligence, drive, and determination

You need to have drive while looking for scholarships. They will never just come to you; you have to find them. Most of the time, I just strike out on my own in my scholarship search and do the work.

You have to really want those scholarships, grants, and even student loans—any type of college aid you wish to have. Leave no stone unturned. You also need to work hard on your scholarship applications. These awards don’t come easy, and you have to make sure your application stands out from others. (That’s yet another reason it is important to have meaningful school and community activities.)

So, that’s my scholarship story—at least so far! All in all, I hope you learned new ways to find scholarships for college. My biggest tip is to use your resources, like your high school counselor or scholarship search websites. Also, be a passionate and involved student both academically and socially. Join a club, sports team, or volunteer organization; all those things will help you become eligible for more scholarships in your future.

Hannah Knodel

CollegeXpress Student Writer
Muncie, Indiana
Class of 2017

As the thought of college loomed before me this past September, another thought cast an even larger shadow: how would I pay for it. This is a question most high school seniors frantically ask themselves as they evaluate their college options—if they are even financially capable of attending a college/university at all. Luckily, there are many ways to make your college education more affordable.

Here are a few of the ways I discovered scholarships and other “free” money for college.

Scholarships from my university

The school I chose to attend, Indiana Wesleyan University, offered me a sizable scholarship based on my GPA and ACT score. This scholarship has eased the financial burden of attending a private college immensely. The school also has quite a few specialized scholarships; I received one for being a dependent of someone in the Christian ministry field.

The college or university you attend will likely have a ton of scholarships, specialized and academic alike, if you are just willing to spend some time looking for them.

Federal and state grants

The government can be incredibly helpful in paying for college (especially for students of lower-income families). Make sure you fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. I filled mine out in October and received my award letter from Indiana Wesleyan in January. It helped to inform my college decision. I also qualified for federal work-study, which is another helpful way to get more money towards your degree.

Related: How to Fill Out the FAFSA, Step by Step

Local and online scholarships

There are thousands of scholarships to be found if you know where to look. From the incredibly specialized, such as scholarships for tall individuals, to more general scholarships, such as essay contests, there are scholarships for everyone. I personally have entered at least 50 scholarships. I have had a lot of rejection, but I am confident that if I keep trying, I will eventually win at least one. It is also lot easier to better your odds of winning if you enter local scholarship competitions, such as those put on by your city or county’s community foundation.

Related: Scholarship Search Best Practices

College is expensive, but it is definitely not out of the question. There are tons of ways to find (and even make!) money for college. Finding scholarships is not that difficult, but it is time-consuming. My mom compares the scholarship hunt to a job, but instead of making a steady paycheck, you could potentially make more money from one scholarship than months of working for minimum wage.

What are you doing to find scholarships? Got any tips or advice to add? Share your scholarship search story in the comments!

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