Digging For Scholarships Can Turn Up College Gold

Whatever your income you should file the FAFSA and, if required by the college, the CSS PROFILE. That way, you’ll be eligible for federal aid and in line for college-based awards. However, it’s a mistake not to spend some time researching and applying for the numerous outside scholarships to be found in many quarters.

To make things relatively easy, you can find plenty of academic, athletic and talent scholarships through resources like scholarships.comFastWebCappex and the College Board’s Big Future website. You register at each site, enter your information and then receive lists of scholarships you may qualify for. Expect to get frequent emails that may or may not be immediately relevant, but you’ll want to know as much as you can when it comes time to apply for awards. For a less frenetic source, head to the Federal Student Aid pages, where there’s plenty of information as well as a good FAQ page and one on avoiding financial aid scams.

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Each site has its own gimmicks and graphics, although scholarships.com is more matter-of-fact than FastWeb, which relies more on flashing numbers, contests and various come-ons for other services. But they’re free and can connect you to plenty of possible scholarships. Some awards seem cheesy, like the Niche “No Essay” Scholarship: Niche is itself a college/scholarship search site where you have to register, which just adds to your email burden. Then there’s the $20,000 Foot Locker Student Athlete Scholarship for athletes “who demonstrate exceptional academic ability and strong leadership skills in sports, school and within their communities.”

 As you might imagine, the best known awards with the highest monetary value are generally the most competitive: Coca-ColaGates (for students of color), Dell, and other high profile organizations have thousands of students applying. But if you think you qualify, don’t hesitate to throw your hat into the ring. Some require an essay, others may ask you to go through a series of interviews or require submission of a more formal paper or project.

Before the era of online search engines, one of my students used her senior year fall to apply to every scholarship she could find. She was from a modest middle-class family and had applied ED to Princeton. She knew she would need financial help, so she contacted Elks Clubs, the American Legion, Lions and any other organization that might award her some money for college. It took an enormous amount of energy and a willingness to write and present many essays on topics like “Patriotism,” but she managed to accumulate nearly $5,000 in $500-700 increments that went toward her first semester. Don’t overlook hometown resources, particularly service clubs, that may not show up online.

Additionally, scholarship money may be available for the children of companies’ employees, union members and others. Be sure to check the employee/HR manual or ask. Money may also come from occupations that want to encourage students to enter the field. Many scholarships encouraging women and minority students to enter the sciences or other fields are also available, such as those compiled by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and, most famously, the United Negro College Fund. Some may be connected to specific universities: The University of Central Florida, for example, has an extensive list of internal and external opportunities for current students.

Don’t let up after you’ve found scholarships for freshman year. Once enrolled in college, students can apply for scholarships available to current college students. Sallie Mae, a site for student loans, has a page dedicated to scholarships for them, which you can access here. The search for study money shouldn’t end with college admission. See what your institution offers for certain majors or fields of study; you might be surprised.

We’re used to thinking of scholarships as awards for, well, scholarship, or a specific talent. But if you’re willing to look farther afield, you may qualify for some more unusual prizes. These include (thanks to FastWeb and scholarships.com):

  1. Create a Greeting Card Scholarship (“Hi, Mom!” doesn’t count)
  2. Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest (You must be present to win)
  3. New Look Laser Tattoo Removal Scholarship (If you can do it, you deserve the prize!)
  4. Duck Brand Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest (Not affiliated with #2)
  5. Tall Clubs International Scholarship (Must be this tall to ride…)
  6. Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship 2016 (DEADline of Oct. 31 has just passed, unfortunately)

Apparently, if you can imagine it, there’s probably a scholarship for it. Don’t limit yourself!