Paying for college is an expensive endeavor, but with a little hard work and determination, you can apply for scholarships to help defray the cost. Some scholarships are merit based and tied to academic achievement or extraordinary talents. You can increase your chances of receiving a scholarship if you’re involved in extracurricular activities and earn top grades.

It’s not common to get a scholarship that will pay for the full cost of attendance, but you may be able to piece together several different awards to significantly reduce your financial obligation.

Prepare for Your Scholarship Search

It’s important to start early in your scholarship search. It’s common to find scholarship application deadlines as early as the fall during your senior year.

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Set aside time during the summer to begin writing a powerful essay that describes who you are as a student and why you deserve a scholarship. If you have a compelling story about overcoming an obstacle, be sure to include that in your essay. You may have to tweak your essay for each application, but if you get the meat of your story written, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Look for Outside Scholarships

Begin your scholarship search by looking at organizations that are located right in your town. Civic groups, local businesses, foundations and community groups often offer scholarships for local high school students.

Talk to your high school counselor to learn more about scholarship awards that are reserved for local high school students. If you’re involved in athletics or music, you may even be able to apply for a scholarship that’s awarded by your high school booster club.

Explore Employer-Sponsored Scholarships

Often, businesses offer scholarships for college to their employees. If you have a part-time job, ask your supervisor if there’s a scholarship program for high school students. Similarly, have your parents inquire with their employer about scholarship opportunities that are available. Some employers even offer a scholarship program that will match funds saved by your parents to help with college expenses.

Check With Your College

It’s important to extend your scholarship search to the college that you expect to attend. It’s common for colleges to provide a scholarship search tool for prospective students. You can also talk to your admission counselor for guidance.

If you have a high grade point average, a top score on the SAT or ACT, a particular talent or a financial need, you may be instantly eligible for college grants or scholarships. Some academic majors may also offer scholarships for college to recruit high-performing students to study a particular content area.

Search for Scholarships Online

Getting a scholarship isn’t an easy task. The best scholarship websites provide information about awards without requiring financial information or payment for the search. If you encounter a scholarship website that asks for this information, it’s likely a scam. Reputable scholarship websites don’t guarantee an award, claim to have unique access to funding organizations or claim that they’ll do the work for you.

You can expect websites to ask you to fill out a short profile that will help to match your talents and interests to funding organizations. Here are a few common scholarship websites:

  • Peterson’s
  • Niche
  • Chegg
  • CollegeNET.com
  • Fastweb
  • Cappex
  • Unigo
  • The College Board
  • Scholarships.com
  • Scholarship Monkey

Don’t Give Up

You may have to apply for 100 scholarships before you get a bite. The scholarship search process takes time since some grant funding organizations may have a process that includes an interview or the submission of additional materials. If you start to feel dejected, don’t give up. Once you have your application materials prepared, continue to apply for as many scholarships as you can.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.