How to Begin Your Scholarship Search

There are many different ways to help pay for college savings, current income, part-time work while in college, grants, scholarships and loans. Most people pay for their education using a combination of all of these.

Saving for college as early as possible is always a good idea, but few people can cover the entire cost of college just with savings. That’s why one of the first things to do when seeking money for college is to look for grants and scholarships, since these can provide money you won’t have to pay back. The more “free” money you can get, the less you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket or borrow in education loans. Your home state, the federal government, colleges, universities, and other community groups or foundations are good sources of grants and scholarships.

So, how do you get started?

Don’t wait until your senior year to start exploring possible options; it’s never too early to start looking for scholarships and grants. Get familiar with merit-based scholarships and grants that may be awarded for special talent, achievement, skill, where you live, what you plan to study, or other factors. Look into need-based scholarships or grants that may be awarded based on your financial circumstances.

Sort through scholarships and grants to see which might have criteria that match your talent, characteristics, or need. While it’s exciting to dream of full-scholarships, a relatively small number of students are that fortunate. That’s why you should consider a wide range of scholarships and grants. You may be eligible for smaller awards that, put together, would be very helpful in reducing your share of college costs.

  • If you’re a North Carolina resident planning to go to a college or university in North Carolina, use this state search tool to look for merit and need-based options especially for North Carolinians.
  • National scholarships and grants also are available. The competition is greater since these are open to any student, anywhere in the U.S. Many, many students apply, but it never hurts to try. Just remember, as you search national sites, avoid any that ask you to pay for scholarship information. Here are two national scholarship sites that should be helpful. Note; once you click to either, you’ll leave our website: College Board and
  • Athletic scholarships are an option for some students. If you’re an outstanding athlete, begin talking with coaches about college sports and scholarship eligibility during your junior year. You may need to apply for these particular scholarships earlier than your senior year.

Early in your senior year of high school, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form will determine your eligibility for receiving federal and state aid such as grants, scholarships, and loans when you go to college. The colleges to which you are applying need this information to determine the amount of financial assistance for which you might qualify. Even if you are not sure you’ll qualify, you and your parent or guardian should plan to complete the form as soon as possible after October 1. Visit this link for help or directions on filling out the form.

Visit the school website or contact the aid office of the colleges and universities to which you’re applying.Individual schools may require additional forms, such as the CSS PROFILE. Many schools also offer other school-sponsored scholarships and grants for which you might apply.

Tailor your scholarship search to your educational goals. If you know what you want to study, look for opportunities through the schools you’re considering. There may be scholarships related specifically to the area of study you’re planning. Of course, if you change your mind on your major later, that scholarship will no longer be an option. Also, scholarships are often tied to an expectation of keeping up a certain grade point average. Review the requirements of each scholarship or grant for which you apply carefully to make sure you are comfortable with the eligibility expectations.

Talk to your school counselor. School counselors can often share information with you about scholarship opportunities available from businesses, civic groups, clubs, or foundations in your local area. They usually know where to find scholarship opportunities that might be hard for you to find on your own. The competitiveness of these scholarships varies depending on the size of the organization and prize.

Search widely. Check with your parents to see if their employer offers scholarships for employee children heading to college. There are also scholarships for people from certain backgrounds, such as children of military service members. Look on as many scholarship websites as possible; but don’t apply for any scholarships that require an application fee. You should never have to pay to get financial assistance. You can search these sites like this one by type, requirements, award type, etc. to find the best fit for you.

Get your scholarship and grant applications in on time. Once you’ve identified those for which you think you may be eligible, be sure you meet their application deadline. Keep a record of each deadline; different schools may have different deadlines, especially for competitive scholarships.

A scholarship and grant search takes effort, but any amount you receive will reduce what you and your family are responsible for paying. Your future self will appreciate all the time you spend now trying to find this money for college, so get started today!