When it comes to planning for college, it can be overwhelming to know where to start, especially when it comes to scholarships. Everyone encourages you to apply for and earn scholarships, but how do you find the right scholarships to apply for? 

This blog walks you through some tips to find scholarships and places to start! 

Start with your guidance counselor 

When you’re searching for scholarships, your guidance counselor is the best place to start. They have a wealth of information about scholarships that are available, especially for colleges in your area or money offered by businesses and organizations in your state. 

Make sure you come prepared to meetings with your guidance counselor, especially if you attend a larger high school. Ask good questions and don’t waste the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

Look to past scholarship recipients

After talking with your guidance counselor, it can also be helpful to look at scholarships that past students at your high school or in your area received. Maybe look at student bios in old yearbooks or on your school website or ask your friends who have already graduated. If another student at your school qualified for a local scholarship, you might qualify too. Use this information to focus your scholarship search and find new opportunities! 

Ask college admissions officers

Many of the significant scholarships students receive are awarded by colleges and universities themselves. Some colleges have scholarship information available on their websites, but some only provide the details when they know you are serious about applying. 

Start by researching the websites of the colleges you are interested in. Keep notes in a document or spreadsheet of the scholarships that each school offers and what it takes to earn (and maintain) those scholarships. 

Then, when you talk to the college during your admissions process, make sure you ask them more specific questions about those and other scholarships. 

Some college-offered merit-based scholarships are not renewable, so maximize aid your freshman year. Some colleges simply reduce aid after freshman year. Make sure you understand the details of the scholarships you might win from a college.

Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What types of merit scholarships do you offer?
  • What are the requirements for each scholarship?
  • Will these scholarships renew each year? Are there minimum requirements for renewal?
  • Are there any scholarships available specific to my major?

Use online resources

Another way you can find scholarships is through online resources and databases. Here are some of the most popular websites to help you search for privately-offered scholarships. 

Make it your goal to start with 5-10 scholarships that you would be eligible for. It can be overwhelming to look at all of the scholarships available and try to determine where to start. Start small and build your scholarship applications from there.

  • Fastweb.com: the leading online resource to help you find privately-offered scholarships. Their database includes over 1.5 million scholarships, worth $3.4 billion. 
  • Scholarships.com: With their database of millions of scholarships, Scholarships.com matches you with scholarships using their algorithm.
  • BigFuture.org: a College Board site packed with information about expected costs for all colleges as well as scholarship opportunities.
  • CollegeScholarships.com: another large matching private scholarship database that provides a scholarship package built for you as well as a personalized letter with your information to each of the scholarship sponsors.
  • EducationQuest.org (for Nebraska students): EducationQuest.org has a great list for Nebraska students. Other states likely have an equivalent site for in-state aid. Also regularly check your high school’s website for local scholarships. 

If possible, have a family member lead the private scholarship search. They can choose the scholarships they think you can win, fill out all the forms, and ask you for essays.

But if you are in charge of your own scholarship search, make sure you set reasonable, realistic goals for searching and applying for scholarships in addition to your other schoolwork and activities. Ask your counselors and teachers for ideas for scholarships you should apply to. Try to apply to a certain number of scholarships each month. If you can, target a total of 30 to 90 scholarships. 

How to earn scholarships

Earning scholarships and merit-based aid can truly make a difference in your college experience. The scholarships you earn will decrease the amount you have to pay or borrow for school, setting you up for success later in life as well. 

But none of that is possible without a good GPA, test scores, and participation in extracurricular activities. Invest the time and energy during high school to keep up your grades and to score well on the ACT or SAT. Those will pay dividends when it’s time to apply for merit-based scholarships for college.

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College admissions can be complex, but you don’t have to do it alone. John Baylor and OnToCollege are here to help.