Simply put, college is getting more expensive. According to U.S. News & World Report, tuition at a public university on average was $10,388 for the 2021–2022 academic year, compared to $38,185 for a private college. For an out-of-state student at a public university, the tuition averaged $22,698 per year. For many students, scholarships are essential to help offset the costs of education—and you can (and should!) search and apply for them throughout high school and college. Here are six simple steps to start your search and find more awards to apply to.
1. Start with small scholarships
Start by applying for scholarships with the least amount of competition. You can check your school’s counseling website for scholarships posted and recommended by your counselors. These scholarships will often only be open to students in your area, which means you have a greater chance of winning them. They may be relatively small award amounts, but everything counts when it comes to paying for college. Winning several smaller scholarships can really add up the more you try.
2. Talk to your high school counselor
Ask your counselor for past graduation commencement programs to see what local scholarships were awarded to graduates from your school. Any scholarship posted there means the scholarship committee is already familiar with your area, school, and the quality of students who attend. To take it a step further, contact the scholarship committee to express your interest. See what they look for in an ideal applicant, and ask any other questions you may have that you can’t find the answers to online.
3. Check websites of other schools in your region
Small businesses or individuals who offer private scholarships tend to only contact the high schools they attended to post and advertise their awards, but these scholarships might be open to students from other schools as well. Research these and carefully check the wording to see if you’re eligible so you don’t miss out on a great opportunity! It’s important to note that some local scholarships prefer their money to stay in state and may stipulate that the recipient attends a local college, so be sure to read all the rules and requirements before you apply.
4. Research local organizations offering scholarships
Again, this is a great way to find scholarships with less competition and a higher chance of winning. Organizations like Boy Scouts, Elks Club, Rotary clubs, Toastmasters, 4-H, churches, and local nonprofits can be great resources for students. Nonprofits often offer dozens of scholarships per year but lack an advertising budget to draw in a large pool of applicants, which means less competition for you.
5. Search with keywords
Searching for the keyword “scholarships” on the websites of every local radio and TV station could reveal some surprising hidden gems. Many radio stations promote local scholarships on the air, but unless you listen to their show, you may not learn about the award. You should also try searching with multiple combinations of keywords to find awards specifically for your interests, characteristics, location, and more.
6. Broaden your search
Create accounts on FastWeb, Scholarships.com, ScholarshipOwl, and—of course—CollegeXpress (assuming you haven’t already). All these websites post and share scholarships open to students of certain majors or those who meet specific criteria. Search to see what scholarships you might have the best chance of winning and apply to every award you’re eligible for—you can’t win if you don’t try!
Applications for local scholarships typically ask for an activities résumé, general information about what high school you attend, an essay, and/or a teacher recommendation. So come prepared with all these materials so you can expedite your applications as you find scholarships you’re eligible for. There’s a plethora of opportunities out there; you just have to know the tricks to finding them!