Before the World Wide Web made its appearance, finding the right scholarship was, well, challenging. It required know-how and a gritty determination to make the necessary phone calls and do the research to find this obscure, free money for paying for college. While it still takes research and commitment to find scholarships, the number of online scholarship databases and search engines makes the task that much easier. Now, not only can you easily search for any scholarship, you can narrow your search down to the right scholarships, the ones that will be the most beneficial to you.
Surf the Web
Start by doing a quick survey of some of the key search engines available to you. These include websites such as goodcall.com, scholarships.com and fastweb.com. Several of these sites even use your profile to help match you to the right scholarships—saving you time and, well, money. Beware of scams while you search: you should never have to pay to apply for a scholarship, and there are too many free resources to get caught giving away your dollars. The Department of Labor even has their own free search engine that is worth exploring.
Filter Your Search
One thing the top search tools all have in common is the ability to filter your results, which leads to a very important part of your process: focusing your search. There are millions of scholarships available, some are one-off awards, and others are significant sums that will carry you through four years of undergrad. Regardless of how big or small the scholarship, it is important to focus your attention on gift aid that you are likely to earn. What skills or achievements qualify you for different scholarships? Make a master list of all the scholarship criteria that pertains to you:
Achievements (academic, artistic, athletic and extra-curricular)
Underrepresentation (Gender, ethnicity, geographical location, first generation)
Potential schools and majors
All of these things combined should help you narrow your scholarship search. Use your list to identify keywords for filtering. Keep this list handy whenever you browse the web for scholarships, and keep adding to it when you think of another activity or skill set that might qualify you for financial aid.
Think Outside the Box
Creating your list may take time and a little self-discovery, but that shouldn’t slow down your scholarship search. There are plenty of broad scholarships available, aid that is open to any student who meets a certain GPA requirement. Other scholarships have a more creative approach and require submissions related to an artistic field. You can win a scholarship based on your zombie apocalypse survival skills or your ability to build a prom outfit from Duck Brand duct tape.
When you get tired of browsing the web and building duct tape dresses, be sure to use the other resources available to you: your library’s reference section, your state’s department of education, the financial aid office at your college(s) of choice and your school guidance counselor. Your guidance counselor, in particular, can help you identify local scholarships and grants, including those offered by businesses, religious organizations and civic groups who are looking for students just like you.