Red magnetic dart pinning scrap of paper with scholarship on it to dart board

Scholarship Search Best Practices You Need to Follow

Need help paying for college? Then you should take the scholarship search as seriously as you would your college search by following these tips!

It’s true: the scholarship search can be a crazed, time-consuming endeavor. With the college search, high school classes, extracurricular activities, and everything in between, you may think you don’t have time for yet another scholarship application essay that may or may not pay off. But before you throw in the towel, remember: “scholarships are no longer just a nice honor or some extra spending money,” says Mary Wynne, Vice President of Dollars for Scholars at Scholarship America. “They really have become an important part of how someone can finance their education.”

And just like your education, the scholarship search should be taken seriously. “Look at it like a part-time job that has the potential to pay a big salary,” Wynne says. “What other job can you get as a student that might give you $1,000 for 10 hours of work?” The key is to make the most of it. By organizing your information, managing your time, and using your available sources, your scholarship search will turn from stressful to successful in no time.

Get organized

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Ben Franklin’s words apply to many aspects of your college career, including the scholarship search. “Preparation and organization are really key to help save time in looking and applying for scholarships,” Wynne says. The most effective search begins with well-laid plans. Many scholarship applications require several components, like transcripts, recommendation letters, résumés, family financial information, and lists of activities, academic honors, leadership roles, work experience, community service, and more. Before you start your search, gather all of this information and save it in a folder for easy access.

Wynne suggests making a “scholarship résumé” that outlines all of your personal, academic, and extracurricular accomplishments. Having this list on hand will save time and ensure you don’t forget important information to include on each application. It’s also helpful to give to the teachers, coaches, and employers writing your recommendations. But it’s not just about organizing your past; you need to do it in the present too, keeping track of each award you apply for. “I recommend creating an Excel spreadsheet to track scholarship applications,” says Tamara Krause, a writer for ScholarshipExperts.com. “Students can include fields for deadline dates, award amount, required documentation, contact information, and other necessary items, which can all be easily filtered for quick review.” Making a calendar of due dates is also beneficial—meeting deadlines is crucial, as most scholarship committees throw late applications out the window.

Related: Scholarship Search Spreadsheet Template 

Get looking

Now that you’re well prepared, it’s time to start your scholarship search! With so many awards out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Streamlining your search and looking in the right places can help you find scholarships you have the best chance of earning. It’s easiest to start close to home. Some students may dismiss local scholarships since they’re usually smaller awards, but these can add up, according to Cherie Galyean, Education and Scholarship Manager at the Maine Community Foundation. “I have seen students piece together a tremendous amount of money—$10,000 or more—from small scholarships, just because they were organized about it and took the time to apply,” she says.

Your school and local community 

Your high school counselor will have lists of scholarships offered by school groups and local organizations, like the Elks Club and American Legion. You can also check local newspaper archives and old commencement programs from your high school, which will often list the names of scholarships next to that year’s recipients. Even closer, your parents’ employers, unions, churches, and clubs may have established scholarship programs. You could be eligible for awards as a student employee or organization member as well. Not quite as local, county and statewide sources, like community foundations, also connect students with scholarships. These awards will have smaller applicant pools compared to national awards, which means less competition and increased odds of securing funds. “While national scholarships are impressive and important, it is much easier to actually get one from the local Rotary,” Galyean says.

Search engines and apps

The internet is an invaluable source for students searching for scholarships. Many websites and blogs (like CollegeXpress!) help students find awards and offer advice on the application process. Even a quick Google Search using keywords related to your interests, hobbies, major, talents, or experiences can direct you to awards you may be eligible for. Most of these online services are free—as every resource should be, Galyean stresses. “It really can’t be said enough: never pay for scholarship information.” While it's sound advice to not buy into scholarship scams, some students are spending money on smartphone apps to simplify their scholarship search. Several are free, including RaiseMe and the app from Scholarships.com, but some come with a price. For example, Scholly—an app that creates targeted lists of scholarships for high schoolers, undergraduates, and grad students—is free to download but requires a payment plan to subscribe and create an account. 

Social media

Another smart online scholarship source is social media. “Whether students are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or Reddit, they will find tons of scholarship advice and award listings,” Krause says. But Wynne reminds that there are important do’s and don’ts when it comes to social networks. You know admission counselors and employers look at your online posts—but scholarship providers do too. “When it comes to thinking about your future, remember this rule of thumb: if you don’t want your grandma—or the funder of the scholarship you’re applying for—to read the post or see the picture, don’t put it out there for anyone to see,” she advises. “Make sure what scholarship providers find about you is what you want to showcase about yourself,” like talents, volunteer work, special interests, and job history.

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

Get smart

It may seem obvious, but many students need a reminder to focus on awards they’re truly eligible for. Don’t waste time filling out information, writing essays, and mailing in applications that will be tossed aside because you don’t meet the GPA requirement. At the same time, don’t let limitations you presume to exist deter you from applying for an award! Not every scholarship seeks students with the highest grades or a concrete amount of work experience. If a requirement isn't set in stone, don’t assume you aren’t qualified—you may miss out on a valuable opportunity!

To find scholarships targeted to you, it’s helpful to know yourself and realize your strengths. Are you a star student? Then focus on finding scholarships where grades are the most important component. A comedian? Applications that require an anecdote let you make a lasting impression with your sense of humor. An artist? Search for contests that require you to send a copy of an original piece of work. “Students will put more effort into something they enjoy, and that will increase their chances of winning,” Krause says. No matter what your background, enter as many free drawings or easy “no essay” scholarships as you can—somebody has to win them, after all! Successful students often designate a certain day of the week to search for new awards, work on applications, and write essays, says Krause. Some materials can be recycled for multiple applications as long as they’re edited properly. Just start the process as soon as possible to avoid submitting sloppy, rushed work at the last minute. As Krause says, “Slow and steady wins the scholarship race.”

Related: 3 Smart and Easy Strategies to Win More Scholarships 

Students should remember that scholarships aren’t just about them, Galyean says. Free money for college exists because “a donor somewhere along the way decided they wanted to help the world in some way,” she explains. “Be respectful and appreciative of that donor’s commitment to education by doing the best job you can in applying. And don’t forget to say thank you!”

Ready to put these strategies to good use? Use our Scholarship Search tool to browse over $7 billion in free money for college! 

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Caio Matos

Caio Matos

High School Class of 2022

Starting the college admissions process as an international student was daunting. Thankfully, CollegeXpress was the first website I used for that cause and it helped me so much, from knowing where to start to deciding what my next move would be. I'll take a gap year, but I’m certainly using the website again when applying for fall 2023.

Khush

Khush

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress is a multi-maneuver platform that has been helping students in their college applications and scholarship hunt process. For me, CollegeXpress has been a boon. I've been able to find my dream university via CX, and I've also been able to apply to thousands of scholarships through it. All the thanks to CollegeXpress for doing such a great job for free. I express my sincere gratitude to you for doing such a wonderful job. I recommend CollegeXpress without any reservations.

Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

Elizabeth Stafford

Elizabeth Stafford

High School Class of 2021

As a UK student moving to California due to my dad's job in the military, when I first signed up for CollegeXpress a few months ago, the college process ahead seemed daunting and incredibly stressful. That all changed after I started to explore what this website had to offer. Not only was I helped by the vast array of resources available to me, but through being a CollegeXpress member, there have been so many more benefits. There have been emails with college tips—all of which I found incredibly helpful—as well as invitations to events and notifications of scholarships that'll make college possible for me. Overall, I'm very grateful to CollegeXpress for all of these things and more. Not only have they helped me grow my understanding of the college process, but they've also helped me to grow as a person, giving me new skills that I can take with me through life.

Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

New York University—Abu Dhabi Campus

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates