With college costs continuing to rise faster than inflation, it makes sense to get all the help you can when paying for college. But with another school year just weeks away, what can you do to close your own college funding gap? The good news is that scholarships are available year round, so you can apply for them anytime.
“Many scholarships offer rolling deadlines,” says Jodi Okun, the founder of College Financial Aid Advisors and Brand Ambassador for Discover Student Loans. “You might be surprised at how many scholarships are live and active right now. You can even keep applying throughout the school year.”
If you know where to look and how to apply for college scholarships, you increase your chances of success.
“One of the first places to start is your high school,” suggests Okun. “Check with the career or counseling center. They usually have a list of available scholarships.”
These scholarships range from community-based scholarships, such as those offered by local credit unions and grocery stores to global scholarships offered through service organizations, such as Rotary International or Lions Clubs.
Many workplaces offer matching scholarships to the children of employees, and students can check with a local church, temple or mosque for potential awards.
Okun also suggests looking online. There are many websites that offer free scholarship searches, such as the college scholarships resource offered by Discover Student Loans. Once you start running an online search, it’s easy to see that there are thousands of scholarships available, with awards ranging from $250 to more than $10,000.
Some college scholarships are a little off-the-wall or aimed at a group of people with specific characteristics. “Duck brand duct tape offers a scholarship for winners who create prom dresses from duct tape,” Okun points out. There are scholarships offered to members of the Michigan Llama Association, as well as scholarships for those who are tall or those who do well in a mock stock market competition. It’s even possible to find scholarships for trade schools through the American Fire Sprinkler Association.
Okun warns that not all websites that promise college scholarships are created equal. “Stay away from scholarship searches that ask you for friends’ names or numbers,” she says. “These may be data-mining sites and they shouldn’t be trusted. Also, don’t use a site that requires a fee. There are plenty of free search websites out there.”
One of the biggest pitfalls faced by students trying to earn college scholarships is that they focus on the big money contests. “Applying to more, smaller scholarships is the key to better success,” Okun says. “Apply to 40 or 50 scholarships at smaller dollar amounts.” Big money scholarships draw a larger pool of applicants, and it’s easy for your application to get lost in the shuffle. Smaller scholarships don’t tend have as many applicants or they offer awards to more students.
Since many smaller college scholarships have rolling due dates, Okun suggests prioritizing according to the due date that is coming up first. Look ahead and plan to apply for more scholarships. It’s even possible to keep applying throughout your college career. Next, Okun suggests having someone else look over the application before you submit it. “Even with smaller competition, you still want to present yourself professionally and competently,” she says.
“So many scholarships are just sitting there,” says Okun. “No one has won them or even looked at them. You could be the one to scoop those up.”