The Great Scholarship Search

By Coach Sara – September 4, 2015   High school students probably ask CAA Coaches about scholarships more often than any other topic: How do I find them? How do I apply? Am I even eligible? Financial aid is such a huge – and hugely important – aspect of determining college fit, it’s no surprise students and their families have questions. Scholarships can be an important piece of the financial aid puzzle, and your CAA Coaches have some advice to help you gear up for your scholarship search.   First, what is a scholarship? Most students and parents we speak to know that scholarships can help pay for college, but many don’t understand what sets them apart from other sources of financial aid, such as grants, work-study, or loans. A scholarship is free money that helps cover your educational costs. It’s money that you don’t have to pay back (like a loan) or work to earn (like work-study). Unlike most grants, scholarships are usually based on the student’s academic and personal merits.   So, what are academic and personal “merits”? The most common merit scholarships are based on the student’s academics – GPA, test scores, or academic honors and achievements. Personal merit can be a special talent (like music or acting), athletic ability, community service, your intended major or career, and involvement in clubs and activities. But, there are several other types of merit. For example, overcoming an especially difficult obstacle or rough family situation, working for a particular company, being part of a certain ethnic group, or even being unusually short or tall!   There are many qualities that might make you eligible for a scholarship, so when starting your scholarship search, your first step should be to make a list of what makes you unique. What merits do you have? What activities, organizations, or businesses have you or your parents been involved with? Is there anything unusual about you or your background?   Now that you have your list, you’re ready to begin your search! The best method for searching is to start local and then branch outward. First, talk to your high school guidance counselor about scholarships specific to your school, town, county, state, etc. Your local public librarian is also often a good source of this type of information. Keep your eyes peeled in town and as you watch the local news. Local scholarships are usually advertised in your local area but aren’t often easy to search online. The advantage of local scholarships is that there is less competition, which raises your chances of being selected!   Where else should you look? Well, remember that list you made? You should next check with all of the organizations, companies, etc. that you listed. Have your parents ask their employers about potential opportunities, and if you have a job, speak to your supervisor. Check the websites of other organizations you’re associated with for any scholarships they offer. Even companies you only shop at may offer scholarships you can apply to. For example, your favorite clothing brand or restaurant may have a scholarship essay contest specifically for customers.   The final place to look for scholarships is often where students look first: the internet. Googling just the word “scholarships” will give you a dizzying number of results, so it’s best to be specific. Remember your list! Search for key words on your list, such as “scholarships for women in science” or “scholarships for musicians.” Another good option is to use one of the scholarship search engines available on many websites. Just remember, it should never cost you money to search or apply for a scholarship!   The good news about scholarships is that there are a LOT of them out there. If you approach your search in a methodical and organized manner, you are likely to find many options you are eligible to apply to. Next step – apply! But that’s a topic for a different blog. As always, we encourage our clients to give us a call for help with any of their college admissions questions.