Finding “Free” Money: A Roadmap to Searching for Scholarships

Every year thousands of students apply for financial aid to help cover the cost of college. Most of this aid will come from the state and federal government or the colleges in the form of grants, loans, or work study programs. Quite often government financial aid is not enough so students must look elsewhere. That’s where organizations like the Hispanic Scholarship Fund come in.

Private scholarships, which are also a type of financial aid, are offered by individuals, companies, or private organizations. Similar to grants, the money awarded does not have to be paid back.

Scholarships are designed to not only assist individuals who have financial need, but also to reward academic performance, special talents, or dedication to community. Private organizations, companies, and individuals also see this as an opportunity to invest in educating future generations which in turn builds a strong workforce and creates a better quality of life.

Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants & Prizes publishes their annual guide which provides information on over 5,000 scholarships. Imagine over 5,000 scholarships!

There are scholarships for students who want to study anything from aviation engineering to journalism; design their prom gowns out of duct tape to those who play classical piano; or for students as young as 6 years or students – of any age – returning to college to complete their bachelor’s degree. Award amounts vary from $50 to over $100,000. There are scholarships that are awarded one time only; others will pay students money over multiple years.

So how should one begin the scholarship search process?

Along with Peterson’s guide, we like to recommend that students go online to or to begin their search.

These are free sites where students can set up profiles with information about colleges they attend or want to attend, desired course of study, or ethnicity/heritage. These profiles help narrow down the search for scholarships that match the student’s qualifications. Each scholarship will have its own criteria and requirements, so make sure you follow them carefully.

It’s also important to stay organized throughout the process.

Start by tracking important information about each scholarship for example, application deadlines or which documents need to be submitted. If an application requires essay writing, then remember that a good essay doesn’t happen over night so plan plenty of time to write a first draft, get feedback from a teacher or mentor, make edits, and then write the final version.

How can parents help their students?

Begin the search for scholarships and inform yourself about what the different requirements are before your child enters high school. We’ve found scholarships for children who are 6 years old. It really is never too early to start looking and applying.

  • Keep your eyes and ears open: does your company or union offer scholarships? How about your church, credit union, or local department store?
  • Once you target scholarships to apply to, help your children create a calendar of important deadlines, files for the different applications, or set up a reminder system highlighting not only final application deadlines, but also deadlines for a final essay or letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor.
  • Create a checklist for each application and review it with your child before submitting.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Never pay for scholarship information! There have been reported scams run by companies claiming that they will guarantee students scholarship money. This is not possible.
  • Students can apply for as many scholarships as they qualify for and can accept as much money as is awarded. Do be aware that some scholarships must be reported to a student’s college of choice and this may affect the financial aid award packet which is determined by the college.
  • Follow up with the organization responsible for a scholarship if you or your child has questions.
  • Students can continue to apply for scholarships throughout high school, college, and graduate school.

Everyone likes to say that scholarships are free money.

While it is true that the money doesn’t have to be paid back to anyone, I prefer to tell families that as with most things in life, scholarships aren’t completely free. It takes a lot of time and effort to find scholarships that match a student’s qualifications and then to actually complete the applications, but often times the payoff for that effort can make a big impact on reducing the cost of college!

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  1. John Pertzborn
    Dec 02, 2008 - 09:15 PM

    Excellent article Sylvia! Me gusta mucho!


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