Like many things with the college admission process, searching for scholarships can be overwhelming. However, if you start early and stay organized, you can obtain the money you need to close the gap between your college savings and educational expenses. What does that mean? It means you can get closer to graduating from college debt-free. So where do you start? Well, November is National Scholarship Month, so hopefully you already have. But whether you’re just beginning or you’re already in the thick of your search, if you follow these six steps, you’ll find the scholarship money you need to reach your educational goals.
1. Get organized
The scholarship search process may have you feeling overwhelmed with emails. A good place to start getting organized is to create a new email account to use exclusively for your scholarship search. Then you can keep yourself on track by setting a reminder in your calendar to check it at least once a week. You should also organize the scholarships you intend to apply for by using a spreadsheet. Be sure to note important things like the link to the scholarship application, requirements, and the deadline. Then put reminders in your calendar so you know when to start working on that application.
2. Think about you
The next step to generating a list of scholarships to apply to is to think about all the things that make you unique. Make a list of the following:
- Extracurricular activities: Volunteering, editor of the school newspaper, Scout member, leader in religious youth groups, etc.
- Personal interests: Animal rights, engineering, entrepreneurship, future teacher, beekeeper, etc.
- Personal talents: Art, music, dance, glassblowing, running, public speaking, etc.
- Personal characteristics: Red hair, tall, short, left-handed, etc.
Next, use a search engine to see what’s out there. Are you an only child? Google “only child + scholarships.” Are you a female interested in engineering? Google “female engineering + scholarships.” There’s a plethora of criteria combinations that could lead you to finding great opportunities, so be sure to search anything you can think of.
Related: Scholarship Criteria That Can Increase Your Opportunities
3. Look locally
The next step is to generate a list of available local scholarships you may not be able to easily find on the internet. Ask your school counselor what scholarships are available through your city, county, state, and high school. Also ask if any local organizations offer scholarships (e.g., Knights of Columbus, American Legion, etc.). Check with your parents and ask if they’re affiliated with potential scholarship-awarding sources or have connections with people who are. For example, their employer, military status, first-responder status, group membership, church or religious affiliation, or college alumni association may all offer scholarship opportunities for their children.
4. Find major corporation scholarships
Another source for outside scholarships is major corporations. Most big companies offer scholarships (often with high-value awards) that students can apply for, but be aware these can be competitive since they’re usually more widely known. You should also ask your parents and relatives if the companies they work for offer scholarships, especially if they work for a reputable organization.
Related: 3 Smart and Easy Strategies to Win More Scholarships
5. Use scholarship search engines
There are hundreds of scholarship search engines out there. You’ll need to create a profile on each website then keep track of which scholarships are designated as “matches.” The #1 rule for using a scholarship search engine is that you should never have to enter credit card information or pay a fee to use it. If you do, step away. Also, be sure to only sign up for a few accounts so you’re not overwhelmed with options. (Plus, many of the search engines will list the same scholarships.)
6. Start early and keep looking
Most students don’t begin looking for scholarships until their senior year of high school, but I find most seniors are too overwhelmed with the college application process to begin this type of search. You can start looking (and in some cases, even applying) for scholarships as early as freshman year of high school. You should also continue to look for scholarships while you’re a college student. After you get to college, head to the financial aid office and ask about scholarships available to current students. Once you declare a major, you may also be eligible to receive scholarships from your academic department.
Related: When Can I Start Applying for Scholarships?
Remember, every penny for college counts, and looking for scholarships is a lot of work—but it’s all worth it in the end. I challenge you to have at least 15–20 scholarships you want to apply for by the time you begin your senior year of high school. Take the time to set yourself up for success, and your future self will thank you!
Ready to start your search right now? You can find a ton of scholarships right here on CollegeXpress using our Scholarship Search tool.