Searching for Scholarships
This page provides advice on searching for scholarships.
It discusses when to start searching for scholarships, how many
applications you should submit, and how to approach special types of
awards, such as academic scholarships and scholarships that require
Should you focus your time on the most prestigious and most lucrative
scholarships, or on the less competitive awards? (Answer: Both, if you
It also warns you about scholarship scams.
This page is part of the section on maximizing your chances of
winning a merit scholarship.
- Start Searching for Scholarships ASAP. It pays to start your
search for scholarships as soon as possible. Many scholarships have
early deadlines, even as early as August or September. If you start
searching in January, you will miss the deadlines for half the awards.
Start searching for scholarships at an earlier age. Most students
don't start searching for scholarships until their senior year in high
school. But there are many awards available for students in earlier
grades, even junior high school.
When completing a profile on an online scholarship search, be
thorough, answering every question. Some of the questions may have a
long laundry list of attributes and activities, but it is worthwhile
to read through them carefully. A complete profile will often match
twice as many awards as a minimal profile. So try to answer as many
questions as possible. If you have a more complete profile, you will
match more awards.
- Apply to as many awards as possible. Apply to every
award for which you are qualified, no matter how small the award
amount. Every penny helps, and winning an award adds a line to your
resume that can help you win other awards. The less lucrative
scholarships are often less competitive, so you have a better chance
of winning them. Several small awards can add up to a significant
amount of money.
You can't win if you don't apply. Even if you are extremely talented,
your chances of winning any particular scholarship are low, since
you are competing with many other equally talented applicants. To
improve your odds of winning a scholarship, apply to more scholarship
Do not, however, apply for awards for which you do not qualify. It is
a waste of your time. Scholarship sponsors receive far more qualified
applications than they have awards available, so they are not going to
look at any candidate that doesn't satisfy their criteria.
- Seek out less competitive scholarships.
Seek out small local awards that are not listed in most of the
national databases and scholarship books. These awards are less
competitive, and so your chances of winning them are greater. Examples
include the local PTA scholarship, Dollars for Scholars scholarship,
local cultural and religious organizations, local businesses, and your parent's
employer. You can also find information about local awards on bulletin
boards at the local public library and outside your guidance counselor
or school financial aid office.
(The FastWeb scholarship database is particularly thorough about
listing small local awards, and encourages all scholarship sponsors
submit information about their awards,
even local awards. FastWeb can code those awards to show them only to
students who qualify.)
- Use up-to-date award information.
When looking for information about scholarships in books, check the
copyright date of the book. A book that is more than one year old is
too old to be useful. Similarly, ask how frequently an online
scholarship database is updated. Most are updated annually or
quarterly. The FastWeb scholarship database is updated daily.
- Beware of scholarship scams.
If a scholarship has an application fee or other required fees, it
isn't worth your time and money to apply. At best such "scholarships"
are recirculating the fees to the students, and at worst no money is
ever awarded. Never invest more than a postage stamp to obtain
information about or to apply for a scholarship.
- Ask the school about academic scholarships. Many
colleges offer presidential or academic scholarships to attract
talented students. This is especially true at second and third tier
institutions. You might be able to get a free ride at a college that
isn't as well known.
The main difference between colleges is not in the quality of the
faculty or the quality of the facilities, but in the students. After
all, Harvard and MIT graduate more PhDs than they can hire as
faculty, so many less-well-known institutions have top notch faculty.
Since you will be spending more time learning from your peers than
inside a classroom, you should visit the school while classes are in
session to get a feel for how well you will fit in. But if you like
the atmosphere at the school and the school has a good program in your
major, there's no reason why you shouldn't accept a full-tuition
scholarship at your third choice school. This is especially true if
you intend to go on to grad school, since nobody cares where you got
your bachelor's degree when you have a PhD or MD.
- Ask to be nominated. If a scholarship requires that you
be nominated by your school or the local chapter of the organization,
find out who is responsible for nominating applicants, and ask them to
nominate you. Often the nominator will not have a formal process for
selecting a nominee. If the nomination deadline is approaching,
sometimes they will nominate you simply because you're the only one
who asked. Even if they have a formal process, by introducing yourself
and your qualifications to them you will have improved your chances of
being nominated (assuming you didn't annoy them by being too
persistent). Provide the nominator with a copy of your
- Don't forget to renew your scholarship.
If you won a renewable award last year, make sure you satisfy any requirements
for retaining it in subsequent years. This may involve maintaining
satisfactory academic progress, maintaining a minimum GPA, continuing
to study in the same major, retaining full-time enrollment, submitting
an annual progress report, and providing a copy of your transcript
each year. Some scholarships may require community service or other