Between finding legitimate sites and meeting the application criteria, the scholarship search can be very daunting. But instead of doing the research all on your own, include your school counselor; they have years of experience and will surely help you find the perfect scholarships for you. It’s never too late (or too early) to start the process, so let's begin!
Think local to start
Though you may think the best place to begin your scholarship search is the internet, you're wrong. You and a billion other students have the same idea, which dwindles your chances of winning money for college. That’s why you should start with a visit to your school counselor, who will have a list of local businesses and community organizations that offer scholarship opportunities. Some may only be for seniors, but your counselor may also know about some hidden gems for underclassmen. Starting local not only gives you a smaller applicant pool but also gives you the chance to build relationships with those organizations. Then if you need signatures for volunteer hours or a dazzling recommendation letter for college, you’ll know who to go to!
Tap into your alumni network
This option may sound difficult, but with help from your counselor, it should be easy breezy. To get started, provide your counselor with a “brag sheet” so they can understand your interests and get to know you more personally. Based on your interests, experiences, and intended majors, they should be able to get you in contact with an alumnus who matches your profile. This not only allows you to build a connection but could also pave the way for future networking opportunities. If this person doesn’t know about any scholarships, they could still get you in contact with other colleagues, donors, or organizations that help ambitious students. That's the power of networking—it’s just like a long game of telephone until something sticks.
Snag a commencement program
Between the stickiness and confusion of a high school commencement ceremony is this hidden gem: graduation programs! While you’re busy cheering on your beloved siblings or friends, be sure to set aside some time to snag a program (or ask your counselor, who most likely has some in their office). Almost all programs include a section on awards and accomplishments for the graduating class. These are the students who’ve won significant accolades—and they also share your geographical location, high school, and GPA. Peruse the list and see what you may be eligible for. You could take it one more step and ask that person or your counselor about the application process and any details about being a recipient. Sometimes winning a scholarship entails an invitation to a special dinner or delivering a speech of thanks—all great things to be aware of.
Sometimes gatekeeping can put you at a higher advantage for winning scholarships. It may sound cruel, but many school and community clubs don’t disclose whether they provide scholarships for their members. This is a way of weeding out those who aren’t passionate so the most devoted ones have a chance to reap the benefits of their work. In some cases, only officers of certain clubs are eligible for or granted scholarships. This is why networking is vital to the scholarship search. You should consult your counselor to see if they know about any clubs that provide grants for members. If they do, try joining as soon as possible!
Remember: The more niche, the better
We’ve all seen a type of scholarship that has so many requirements that it seems like 0.0000001% of the population is eligible. It’s frustrating, but that's where your trusty counselor comes in. Based on your academic profile and background, they can compose a list of sites and specific scholarships that you could be a perfect candidate for. Don’t be afraid to throw caution to the wind and apply to the most specific scholarships too, even if you aren't an equestrian with three years of experience, a pet octopus, and training as a Certified Nurse Assistant. You don’t want to waste your time, of course, but if you can relate to the requirements even a little bit, you can take those elements and spin your application essay into something that works. This way, you can let your personality shine through and hopefully be the recipient!
Remember, you do not have to do the scholarship search all on your own. Use your resources and talk with your counselor—that's what they are there for. They can help you win some money and have some bragging rights because they helped you along the way. Just remember to be consistent throughout your search and apply for as many scholarships as possible, even the “no-essay” contests; you never know when you may be picked!
After you visit your high school counselor, deepen your search with the CollegeXpress Scholarship Search tool, featuring over $7 billion worth of awards—including local and school-specific opportunities!