Financial Aid, Tuition

Scholarships: Where to Look and How to Get Them

As the cost of an education in the United States continues to increase, it is becoming more important for parents and students to consider alternatives to taking out bigger loans to pay for school. Though they are highly sought after, scholarships can help offset the price. With a little work and dedication, students can secure anywhere from hundreds to thousands of extra dollars to help pay for their degrees.

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What are Scholarships?

There are several different types of scholarships that can be awarded for different reasons. A scholarship might be given in a lump sum, directly deposited into an individual’s account or presented in the form of a check.

Yet, all scholarships have one thing in common: They are “free” money. While some strings may be attached, such as maintaining good grades or being enrolled as a full-time student, parents and students are not required to pay back scholarship money.

Who Can Receive Scholarships?

Technically, anyone can receive a scholarship. Contrary to popular belief, these awards are not only given to the students with the highest marks. The criteria for scholarships varies and can depend on the source of the award. Whoever is funding the scholarship gets to select the specific criteria attached to the donation of the money. Generally, the following factors are frequently factored into the selection of a scholarship recipient:

  • Academic achievement
  • Economic circumstances
  • Talent or skill
  • Membership in a group
  • Social or political involvement in and out of school
  • Volunteerism
  • Focus of study

Your parents may be members or an alumni of a specific group or university that awards scholarships. You may have been a good student and shown excellence in helping others. Many scholarships seek to help minority students or those at an economic disadvantage attend college. Different factors will affect whether or not you are eligible for a particular award.

Most scholarships require a piece of writing, an essay written for a specific prompt or even an art project or video explaining why a student should receive the aid. Scholarships are a great place for students to show off their skills, be creative and get rewarded for it! Just as the criteria and amount vary, so too do the applications.

Who Awards Scholarships?

The source of scholarships varies as much as the criteria that determines who gets them. If you are looking for the most credible sources, seek out the following:

  1. Government organizations — local, state or federal
  2. Private organizations such as businesses, schools, universities
  3. Non-profit organizations, such as clubs associations, charities

How Do I find Scholarships?

Once upon a time, the only way to locate scholarships was through printed pamphlets or your guidance counselor, still an excellent place to start. Be sure to check with your school guidance counselor, and even your librarian, for any local awards or scholarship listings. Guidance counselors are as knowledgable about scholarship opportunities and how to find them as they are colleges!

The internet is the most obvious place to find potential awards. However, there are a number of scholarship scams because there is such high demand for this additional funding. Be wary of any scholarships that charge money and those that seem to good to be true, because they probably are! Remember that scholarships are free money — being awarded hundreds or thousands of dollars is going to take a little work. The College Board website, a non-profit organization that coordinates the SAT and Advance Placement Program, is a great place to start the search.

If  you are interested in a particular university, they will often link off to external scholarship sites from their website. Financial aid representatives can also help direct prospective students to common funding sources, whether they are scholarships the school offers or other awards their students commonly receive.

Lastly, be sure to keep deadlines in mind!


While scholarships won’t likely be large enough to pay for the entire cost of higher education, they can at least cover a portion of it. It’s not easy — with countless applicants around the world vying for this free money, it will take work and creativity. Be careful to avoid any scholarships that appear to be scams, apply early and be mindful of deadlines!

Photo credit: octaviolopez / morguefile

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The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.