A Senior’s Guide to Searching for Scholarships

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To some students, scholarships seem like an elusive unicorn that almost certainly doesn’t exist. Luckily, that’s not actually the case. 

Scholarships are one of the best ways to get free money for college, but due to their reputation for being complicated and time-consuming, many students overlook them.

Here’s why that’s a bad idea. In 2018, a University of Michigan student made national news when he graduated from college debt-free thanks to all the scholarships he received. His secret? He applied for a lot of them.

Scholarships may be an extra and time-consuming step, but it’s one that can pay off in a big way. Let’s talk about what kind of scholarships are out there and how you can find them.

Types of Scholarships

There are two main types of scholarships: merit-based and culture & lifestyle scholarships.

Merit-based Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are awarded for exceptional academic achievement or performance in a talent or special interest. Typically, academic performance scholarships are awarded to students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, top performers, and students with high test scores.

If you’ve made a significant contribution to your school, whether through sports, arts, or academia, you can potentially apply for merit-based scholarships as well.

Culture & Lifestyle Scholarships

These scholarships encompass a variety of different opportunities for students from all different backgrounds and life experiences. They do not usually demand high academic performance, though that can be a piece of the application.

While many scholarships fall into this category, here are some examples of the demographics that are often featured in these types of scholarships:

  • Military Families
  • First-Generation College Students
  • Women
  • Family Background
  • Family Heritage 

How to Search for Scholarships

Now comes the fun part — searching for scholarships.

Start Early

It’s easy to forget about applying for scholarships until you know what your financial aid package looks like. But don’t wait. 

As soon as you start seriously considering colleges, it’s time to begin searching for scholarships. 

While each scholarship has its own due date, many are due early in the year so they can be awarded ahead of the following school year.

Check each scholarship deadline to ensure you have everything completed in time. 

Getting a head start means you catch scholarships that might have earlier due dates. Which expands your options even more.

Local and National Scholarship Searches

There are two options you can consider for your scholarship search: Local and National.

Local Scholarships

Local scholarships are those awarded to students in your town, city, or state. The benefit of local scholarships is that it’s limited to a certain location, so you’re not competing with as many people as you would be with a national scholarship.

The downside is that they usually come in much smaller award amounts. However, when it comes to money for college, any little bit helps. That extra $500 or $1000 could end up being what you need to graduate college debt-free. 

The organizations and businesses that offer local scholarships want to celebrate the achievers and contributors to their community. The first stop on your scholarship search should be your community. 

Searching for Local Scholarships

Local scholarships can be harder to track down than the national ones. That is mostly because not all businesses and organizations make it widely known they’re offering one. Here are a few tips to finding what’s available in your community:

Talk to a counselor

Your college counselor will know about some available local scholarships, so they are a great place to start! They may know exactly the type of scholarships you’d be a fit for and even help walk you through the process.

Online Search By Location 

Other great search tools are the many online scholarship databases. While not all the local scholarships will be listed, you’ll still find some. Use one of these tools to search by location and see what comes up. 

Peers and Teachers

At the local level, your peers and teachers can be a resource to tap into. Start conversations with friends to see if they’ve heard of scholarship opportunities.

Teachers can also be clued in to some of the local opportunities. When it comes to applying for these local scholarships, rely on your community for word-of-mouth information.

National Scholarships

Some of the easiest scholarships to track down are national scholarships.

They are usually offered by large organizations or businesses and provide a significant amount of award money based on the criteria each organization has defined. The downside of the national scholarships is that there is a lot more competition than on the local level. 

National scholarships are offered to a wide variety of people all across the country. So, the chances of finding something that fits your background, no matter what it might be, are pretty good. 

Searching for National Scholarships

Luckily, national scholarships are usually just a Google search away. But here are some great tips for finding ones that suit your needs.

Scholarship Databases

Like with the local scholarships, national ones are often listed in various online scholarship databases. You can search for scholarships based on everything from your ACT scores to your athletic ability and background.

Here are databases to consider in your search:

  • Scholarship.com
  • Myscholly.com
  • Unigo.com

Company Websites

Some major companies and organizations offer scholarships on a national level. While these might come up in an initial Google search, you can also go directly to the websites of major companies. Sometimes they’ll list information about scholarships and aid opportunities.

Sign Up for Email Lists

Some databases send out periodic emails about new and recently open scholarship opportunities. You can sign up for these via the various scholarship databases and even get some information on scholarships by signing up with us here at Frank. 

Organize Your Scholarship Options

As you go through the search process, keep a running document of the scholarships you want to apply to. This document should include:

  • Scholarship name
  • Brief description of what you need to do to apply
  • Link to submit your application
  • Due date

Once you’ve found scholarships to apply for, you can get started on submitting your applications. Remember, there’s no such thing as applying to too many. The more you apply for, the more likely it is that you’ll get a little extra money for college. 

Good luck on your scholarship search!