7 Things You Need to Know When Looking for College Scholarships

A maze with money representing 7 Things You Need to Know When Looking for College ScholarshipsWith all of the college scholarship search websites available, it would seem that getting a scholarship to pay for school has never been easier. Unigo’s scholarship match offers to match students to 3.6 million college scholarships worth over $14 billion. And Scholarships.com tells you that there are over 3.7 million scholarships worth $19 billion just waiting for you. How hard can it be to get a scholarship?

Actually, the truth is that the internet has made it easy to find out about numerous college scholarships students might qualify for. The student still has to apply for the scholarship and is competing with all of the other students who used the same search websites to find the scholarship.

Another truth is that the private college scholarships (those not awarded by the school the student is attending) available generally only make a dent in the cost of attending a public university. Make it a scratch for attending a private school.

According to the last Private Scholarship Count sponsored by the Scholarship America and National Scholarship Providers Association, in 2005 “Approximately 7 percent of undergraduate students received private scholarships, with an average value of $1,982.” The average cost of attendance for public flagship universities is well over $20,000 a year while the average for private colleges is well over $40,000 a year. It’s going to take a lot of $2,000 scholarships to significantly reduce a student’s out-of-pocket costs.

Of course, that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t try for private scholarships. They should just make sure they understand the ratio of effort they’ll have to put in relative to the possible payout.

Ultimately, I would argue that the effort would be better spent targeting schools for merit scholarships. However, I realize that there are plenty of people out there with more energy and ambition than me. So if you’re going to make a serious effort for private college scholarships, you should know the following.

1. Don’t pay for a scholarship search service.

There are plenty of reputable FREE scholarship websites available. It’s highly unlikely that paying someone will result in scholarship information that you wouldn’t have found yourself. If you’re willing to pay someone to search for scholarships so that you don’t have to, then you probably don’t need to be chasing outside scholarships.

2. There are two types of college scholarship websites.

One type is paid by advertising and the other is sponsored by an organization or business. The difference matters because generally (not always) the advertising based website will required registration and a lot more information to use than those that aren’t advertising based.

That’s not to say the advertising based ones aren’t as good. According to 2014 Scholarship Search Reviews, ScholarshipExperts tied for first in search accuracy among the search engines it tested and it is advertising based. What this means is users need to make sure they protect their privacy and don’t opt-in to something they don’t want.

3. All the college scholarship websites will have varying degrees of reliability.

Some will do a better job of narrowing results to your qualifications while others will have fewer outdated scholarships. You’re probably going to want use a combination of websites to maximize your chances of finding scholarships.

4. You will have better chances at getting local scholarships.

These are the scholarships that turn up through your high school counselor’s office, your parent’s workplace, or in the local paper’s community section. They aren’t as easy to find so not as many people will be applying for them.

5. Most of the scholarships will be for one year only.

You will have to repeat this process every year. So pay attention to scholarships that are multi-year or allow you to apply and win more than once.

6.  Outside scholarships, that’s what we’re talking about here, have to be declared to your school’s financial aid office.

They can affect your financial aid award from federal and institutional sources. In other words, schools may reduce the amount of the financial aid they award by the amount of the outside scholarships.

7. To get the most out of private scholarships, be organized and apply for as many as possible.

This means track deadlines, requirements, and recommendations in one place. Give yourself time to write the essays and try to ask for any letter of recommendations at one time. Syracuse University has a scholarship tracking grid and the University of Phoenix has a spreadsheet you can download to track scholarships.


Anyone who purchases my Creating College Lists: Your Guide to Using College Websites to Pay Less for a Better Education will also receive the Scholarship Toolkit which includes:

  • Ratings of 18 major scholarship search websites
  • Overview of 6 websites with lists of scholarships
  • Listing of resources to organize and track scholarship applications
  • 46 often overlooked state websites for scholarships
  • Information on how to apply for scholarships including checklists

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