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Find a Scholarship (At Any Age)

Man researches scholarships to help pay for college

You can find a scholarship for just about any type of student, career, degree and location. It takes work to find the right fit sometimes, but the more effort you put into it, the higher your chances. Weigh the time and effort to apply against the potential reward — while, like grants, scholarships are free money and don’t have to be repaid, they’re also unlikely to cover all of your tuition and expenses.

How Much Can You Get in Scholarships

Taken as a whole, your student aid can’t be more than your school’s total cost of attendance. So, if you get several large scholarships, this could decrease the amount of grants, student loans, work study or other aid you’re eligible for.

The average yearly scholarship amounts claimed by undergraduates in 2015-2016 was only $4,202 per student, according to the Washington Post, which leaves a big gap to be covered in other ways.

Family costs per college student averaged $26,226 in the 2018-19 school year, according to research by Sallie Mae, with 31 percent covered by scholarships and grants. Since grants are usually only available based on financial need, scholarships are the last no-cost option for students who don’t qualify. The same study found 43 percent of costs being covered by income and savings, 24 percent by loans, and 2 percent by contributions from family and friends.

When to Look for Scholarships

High school students should start applying in between their junior and senior years, with a focus in the November before graduation. However, there’s no reason to wait. Many scholarships are offered on a continuous basis or, if you miss the deadline, there’s always next year’s tuition and expenses to consider. Make a list of the ongoing scholarships for which you qualify and revisit this list yearly as you anticipate upcoming costs throughout your academic career.

Avoid Scholarship Scams

Explore the U.S. Department of Education website before searching for scholarships. When you know common scholarship scams to look out for, you’re less likely to waste time on offers that are too good to be true.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Be cautious of anyone who charges a fee to find scholarships. While this isn’t illegal, this kind of help also isn’t necessary. All the information you need is available for free. Even if they give you a 100-percent guarantee of getting a scholarship, you could end up paying them up to $1,000 in fees for a scholarship of less than $500.
  • Don’t apply to every scholarship you see. Double and triple check the company before giving them your personal information and never send money to apply for a scholarship unless you’re sure of its legitimacy. Do an internet search for the company, but be aware that many scammers will change the names of their organizations to avoid detection.
  • Don’t give away your personal data casually. Dig deeper into the scholarship offer — Is this like entering a lottery you’ll never win? Who are the past winners and what have they done with their scholarship awards? Is this company actually trying to sell you something or phishing for your personal information?

Where to Look for Scholarships

Start your scholarship search as close to home as possible and work your way out. Research potential scholarships at:

  • Your employer or parents’ employers
  • Organizations, clubs and community groups you belong to
  • Your high school counselor’s office
  • The financial aid office or TRiO Program at the college or career school you’ll be attending
  • Your local library

Scholarship Search Tools

In addition to the sources above, there are free scholarship search tools online, such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Career OneStop Scholarship Search Tool.

Sort options based on the:

  • Deadline and basic requirements
  • Level of study / type of degree
  • Location
  • Award type
  • Amount
  • Application requirements

Using these criteria, narrow your search to three choices, prioritizing the one you want most. You can repurpose the same essay and other materials, but shape the application to the specific scholarship. No one wants to receive a boilerplate essay that doesn’t speak to them.

I Got a Scholarship! … Now What?

Congratulations! Winning even the smallest scholarship is a great accomplishment. Find out from the provider how you will get the money. Sometimes scholarship funds come to you in the form of a check, while other times, the award is paid directly to the school.

Learn more about planning your education and career with SAM’s free My Earning Plan course.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.}