College Scholarships—Where to Find them and How to Win Them

Like grants, scholarships are basically gifts. You get money for college, and you never have to repay it. There are hundreds of different kinds of scholarships, from special scholarships for left-handed people to scholarships available at specific institutions if your last name is Zolp, Scarpinato, Gatling, Thayer, Van Valkenburg, or Baxendale! Seriously.

Here’s how to find the scholarships you have the best chance of winning.

Types of Scholarships

While there may be hundreds of kinds of scholarships available, most fall into one of these categories:

  • Merit-based. These scholarships are awarded based on your academic, athletic, and/or artistic performance, or sometimes a combination.
  • Financial need. Like grants, these are awarded based on your financial need, except private organizations issue the awards, not the government.
  • Demographic. Some scholarships are aimed at a specific group of people. There are scholarships exclusively for women, ethnicity-based scholarships (such as those offered by the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium), scholarships only for high school seniors, military families, and so forth.
  • Contests. There are several contest-based scholarships, such as the Holocaust Remembrance Project National Essay Contest. Many scholarships in debate, dance, fine art, music, and drama are also awarded through competition.
  • Matching. Often if you are awarded a scholarship, some colleges will match it. Some will match dollar-to-dollar, and others will match by percentage (i.e., School of Visual Arts (SVA) in NYC will match up to 25% of any outside awarded scholarship up to $2,500).

Where to Find Scholarships

With so many options, where can one find scholarships? Here’s a short list of some organizations that offer scholarships to the general public:

  • Churches
  • Local civic organizations, such as Rotary and Lions clubs. (These often offer scholarships for students in the community whether or not your parents are members.)
  • Volunteer groups, like garden clubs
  • Ethnicity-based organizations
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Private endowments that give scholarships based on where you live
  • National and state associations (especially those of which your parents are members)
  • Foundations
  • Unions
  • State Departments of Education
  • Corporations – many corporations offer substantial scholarship options

Other places you can go to receive more information about scholarships would be your high school college counseling office, your college’s financial aid office, the US Dept of Labor’s free scholarship search tool, and various federal and state grant agencies.

Alliance Scholarship Program

Some associations offer scholarships to their members or their dependents. The Alliance Scholarship Program, for instance, presented millions of dollars to thousands of eligible Alliance members and their legal dependents who are 16 – 28-year-old students. For more details on this program, click here.

Don’t let the cost of a college education deprive you of its benefits. Check out these Alliance articles about college costs and finances, grants, and student loans. Be sure to check out The Alliance College Guide. It explains what you need to know about choosing, preparing for, applying to, and paying for college. All in clear, no-nonsense language.

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

–Nelson Mandela

Additional Resources

Finaid – General financial aid information 

National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators – Info on financial aid programs

U.S. Department of Education – Info on finding scholarships

FastWeb – Extensive college search/scholarship info – If the above scholarship search engines aren’t enough

US Dept of Labor’s Scholarship Search Tool – Via Careerweb (you can never have too many search engines)

Big Future Scholarships – Special scholarships for students who plan for college

College Stats

More than 1.7 million students received an estimated $46 billion in scholarships this year. Source: Education Data Initiative