Despite the allure of scholarships for college, many students mistakenly believe they would have better luck searching for a pot of gold under the rainbow. Although it is true that competition is keen for full-ride scholarships, you can find an infinite number of partial college scholarships, including those that require little more effort than submitting your name in a drawing. For instance, it only takes a couple minutes to enter the Sallie Mae Scholarship Sweepstakes. An internet search of legitimate college scholarships on government websites may motivate you to explore funding resources.

But before you apply for scholarships, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for need-based scholarships through the government and other sources.

Understand Scholarships for College

College scholarships are a type of gift aid that can be used to help pay for college-related expenses, such as books, tuition, fees, living costs, laptop, transportation and childcare for dependents. The founder of a scholarship is typically an individual, organization, foundation, school, church, service club or the military wanting to help out a certain type of student. You may be shocked at the number of scholarships available. In some cases, only a handful of students could possibly fit the criteria, which is great if you happen to be one of those students. Colleges and universities award scholarships based on merit, financial need or both to recruit bright and talented students from all economic backgrounds.

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Apply for Academic Scholarships

Scholarships for college are often used to lure top students to a particular school. College and universities heavily recruit students with high GPAs and impressive scores on the ACT and SAT college admission tests. Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, offer generous merit and need-based scholarships, for instance. Well-rounded academic superstars may even land a full-ride scholarship. Meet with your school counselor for insider information on where other students from your school have received scholarships. Many local businesses, banks, service clubs, labor organizations and churches offer small but helpful scholarships to academically accomplished students.

Compete for Athletics Scholarship

You may want to consider immersing yourself in a sport that suits your body type and skills if the idea of competing for an athletic scholarship intrigues you. Schools award more than $3 billion scholarship and grant aid to more than 150,000 student-athletes each year. In fact, well over 50 percent of student-athletes playing for Division I and II schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association receive some type of athletic scholarship. Although Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, the NCAA reports that 80 percent of student-athletes attending these schools receive academic or need-based scholarships, averaging $17,000 per student. Most full-ride scholarships go to men and women playing DI basketball. Partial scholarships are the norm.

Other Ways to Get Scholarships

You can find scholarships that recognize your unique talents, personal qualities, leadership accomplishments and untapped potential. Many schools allocate writing scholarships, leadership scholarships and performing and visual arts scholarships. Such awards are often endowed by alums or corporate benefactors who support certain fields. Talent is the key determinant in who receives endowed scholarships, although financial need may be a factor depending on the founder’s wishes. Access and opportunity scholarships help students from culturally diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds finish college without heavy debt. Also, hunt for niche scholarships for which you might qualify. For instance, Idaho State University offers rock climbing scholarships for climbers regardless of major.

About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.