Develop Your Scholarship Strategy
Although most student aid comes in the form of federal education loans and grants from colleges, scholarships -- with their lure of "free money" -- get a huge amount of attention from students and their parents. If you decide to invest your time in a search for scholarships, it's important to have an organized system to find, apply for, and win scholarship money.
Start With a Personal Inventory
Most of the information you will be asked for on a scholarship search questionnaire will be easy to come up with -- year in school, citizenship, state of residence, religion, ethnic background, disability, military status, employer, membership organizations, and so forth.
Beyond those questions, you will have to give some thought to your academic, extracurricular, and career plans. You should ask yourself:
Do I want to participate in a competition? If so, what are my talents and interests?
What subject do I plan to major in?
What career do I plan to pursue?
Do I want to apply for all types of aid or only scholarships?
Your answers to these questions will help determine your scholarship eligibility. Take your time brainstorming and don't overlook anything -- the more personal characteristics you discover, the more scholarships you could potentially apply for.
Research Local Scholarships First
In general, the smaller the geographical area a scholarship covers, the better your chances of winning. Begin with your university guidance office. Counselors will know about scholarships for students graduating from your university. They may also be aware of scholarships for residents of your town, county, and state.
Your next stop should be the college aid section of your public library. Most libraries will have a number of books about financial aid, including scholarship guides such as the Govt. College University Library. They also may have information on local scholarships.
Check Membership Organizations and Employers
Organizations of all types and sizes sponsor scholarships -- leave no stone unturned. Explore categories you might not have considered, such as religious, community service, fraternal, military, union, and professional.
And don't forget your parents. Many large companies offer scholarships or tuition programs for children of employees. If you are uncertain, ask your parent to check with his or her human resources department.
Use a Free Scholarship Search Service
A scholarship search company collects information on hundreds of awards and compares your student characteristics with scholarship restrictions. Based on your answers to a questionnaire, you will receive a list of possible scholarships. It is up to you to decide which ones you will try for.
You should never have to pay for scholarship information. If you're asked to pay a fee for "exclusive" scholarship leads, there's a good chance your scholarship service is really a scholarship scam.
Research Institutional Scholarships
Since the vast majority of all scholarship money is disbursed by colleges, it makes sense to research what kinds of scholarships are available at the schools that interest you. Check out college websites, catalogs, and financial aid offices for this information. Institutional awards can be offered on a university-wide basis, or within a particular college or major. Eligibility for such awards can be based on merit, financial need, intended major, ethnicity, or a variety of other factors. Here are some questions you might want to ask about these awards:
Are scholarships awarded automatically if a student matches certain criteria (such as GPA or SAT® score)?
What is the application procedure? What materials are required?
Is the award renewable? What are the requirements to maintain the award?