As a college counselor, one of the topics I get asked about most is scholarships. They seem to be an elusive, mysterious matter for many students. And I get it — a quick google search of the term tends to prompt even more confusion, like "wait, do I even qualify for most of these?" and, "are scholarship applications even worth my time?"
Because the short answer to that last question is a resounding yes, I'm here to provide some answers to the inquiries I get most often on the topic in hopes of making scholarships feel less daunting and more doable.
How do I get started?
There are a few things you can do before even searching for scholarships in order to make the process easier overall. For example—
Filling out the FAFSA is often a prerequisite for scholarships, so if you haven't completed that step toward financial aid yet, it's the perfect place to start.
Take some time to get organized with information you might need to provide on scholarship apps: fill out an activities chart* to keep on hand, write out a cheat sheet* with all your academic info, and request an updated unofficial transcript from your advising counselor. *select "File" and "Make a copy" to use these templates for yourself
Review and gather essays you've already written. Don't rewrite essays from scratch when you don't need to! Whether it was something you wrote for a class or a college application, chances are you have a few good pieces of writing already sitting around. Make note of the types of essays and topics you've already got in your portfolio so you can keep an eye out for scholarship applications with similar prompts.
Where do I find scholarships?
Because "everywhere" is perhaps too broad an answer (even though that's how it can feel), I'll hone in on a handful of stops I tend to recommend on the scholarship search—
Your future college If you already know where you'll be headed for college (or have even narrowed it down to a few) check out the financial aid section of their website. There, they will have information on scholarships available to their students. For example, here is University of Oregon's scholarship page. Meanwhile, some schools like Oregon State University have an entire portal of scholarships; theirs is called Scholar Dollars, while others have specific scholarship programs like Portland State's Four Years Free.
Your (or your parent's) employer Many places of employment will offer some sort of college scholarship to either their employees or their employee's children. We've already got a whole blog post on this that you can check out here.
Your local school district Just because you're not in a brick-and-mortar school doesn't mean you can't utilize their resources! Your school district will have a list of local scholarships on their website, many of which you'll be eligible for even as a charter student (for example, for you Central Oregonians, this is the list that Bend-La Pine School keeps updated). Let us know if you need some help tracking yours down.
State- and region-based scholarships The resource above will likely have a host of scholarships just for Oregonians, but in addition there are a few resources in this category that are among my go-to recommendations: (1) the OSAC application, (2) Oregon Gear Up, and (3) WUE.
Scholarship-matching websites Here's where the scholarship net gets real wide. Scholarships can be based on everything from personal interests to college majors, religion to race. With so many different qualifiers to consider, scholarship-matching websites will take the information you give about yourself and create a custom list just for you. Examples include Fastweb.com, Unigo.com, and Scholarships.com.
What kinds should I apply for?
The answer to this depends mostly on the individual asking, so while I can't tell you which kinds you should apply for specifically without knowing you personally, I will break down a few common kinds.
Need-based Students may qualify for need-based scholarships if they come from low-income backgrounds, and qualification is usually determined based on family income. Even if you don't think you'll be eligible for need-based scholarships, it's important to complete the FAFSA (or ORSAA) in order to find out. Students who are eligible for the Pell Grant and whose EFC (expected family contribution) is lower than the cost of attendance should look into need-based scholarships.
Merit These are often what people think of when scholarships come to mind. Merit scholarships may or may not consider a student's financial need, but will always be awarded based on academic, athletic, artistic or other kind of merit. Look for merit scholarships if you: have a good GPA (3.0+), scored well on the SAT/ACT, are a talented athlete or artist (musical, performing, visual, or otherwise), or serve a leadership role in your community.
Community service If you've given back to your community in some way, shape, or form there are scholarships out there to say, "thanks!" The Equitable Excellence Scholarship, for instance, awards $2,500-$25,000 to students who have made a positive impact on their communities and "demonstrate courage, strength and wisdom as shown by community impact through volunteer service."
Open to all While many scholarships will have specific eligibility requirements, there are also plenty available to nearly anyone in search of funds for college. So if you don't fit into one of the scholarship categories above, do not rule yourself out of the scholarship game! Just a few examples (of MANY) include Unigo's monthly essay scholarships, DoSomething's action-based scholarships, creative scholarships like Doodle for Google and Create a Greeting Card.
How many should I apply for?
If you're serious about getting free money for college, I encourage you to treat scholarship applications like a part-time job. That equates to about 20 hours/week, or applying for anywhere from 5-10 scholarships each week. The good news is this part-time job is temporary, and not all scholarship applications are incredibly time-consuming.
In fact, you'll find the more scholarships you apply for, the easier and quicker they get. That's because many scholarships will have similar requirements (like letters of recommendation that take some effort to ask for up front, but are simple to send out once you have them on hand), and you'll have written more and more essays that can be recycled rather than constructed from scratch. As time goes on, you'll be able to apply for more scholarships in less time.
What other tips do you have?
Have fun! Yes, lots of scholarship applications ask serious questions about serious matters, but there are also plenty that are simple, silly, and fun...like these...and these. I came across a $1,000 scholarship the other day for creating your own crossword puzzle, for goodness sakes! And one of my favorites every year is Duck Tape's Stuck at Prom scholarship. So look for ways to enjoy yourself as you search for scholarship options.
Variety is key! For example, intensive applications vs. simple applications: the more involved an application, the fewer the applicants there will be, so scholarships with a lot of requirements and elements give you higher odds of winning; at the same time, it's never a bad idea to throw your hat into the ring, even if the pool is quite large, when it only takes a few minutes to an hour to apply. Same goes for big prizes (more applicants) and small prizes (fewer applicants) — money is money, and a lot of small prizes are worth just as much as one big prize, so don't write a scholarship off just because it's $500.
Details, details, details! I would never want you to put in the work of applying for a scholarship only to not be considered due to missed details. So, pay close attention to the fine print and directions as you look at each application. In particular: read eligibility criteria carefully to ensure you qualify; note all application requirements so that you don't leave an item out (like a letter of rec or official transcript); follow prompts, word counts, etc. just as they are listed; and lastly, ask someone to review it with you (a school counselor, writing tutor, guardian, even a friend).
Start early and don't stop! There’s no such thing as “too early” when it comes to applying for scholarships — plenty of scholarship applications are due each month throughout the year (though most are due November - March). Also, fun fact: senior year is not the only time to apply for scholarships! Though this is a common misunderstanding, there are actually lots of scholarships open to students as young as 13, and you can (and should) continue applying to scholarships throughout your college journey.
Don't see an answer to the scholarship questions on your mind? Ask me directly! email@example.com