mother and daughter looking at computer

by Beth Feinberg Keenan, former financial aid officer at Northeastern University

The internet makes our life easier – among other things, we can shop during a pandemic, watch funny cat videos, send photos to friends, and research college scholarships. Families often ask me what happens to the thousands of private scholarship that go unclaimed each year. Remember the internet? Well, we all have access to it and therefore all have access to the same college scholarship information.

Scurrying to locate money to cover a shortfall in your financial aid package isn’t a good strategy. Students need to understand that scholarship research takes time. As you start to look for scholarships during your senior year, consider the number of hours needed to successfully do a search and balance that time with all of your other responsibilities, like schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and the college application process.

Be Prepared

Preparing early can make a significant difference in your outcome. You aren’t likely going to score a free ride but, with some careful thought, you can potentially earn cash for college. While most scholarship applications are designed for high school seniors there is still plenty to do before senior year. Students can review the criteria for each scholarship and build a working list of future opportunities. Create a spreadsheet with fields listing the scholarship name, website, deadlines, eligibility requirements, and amount. If a high school sophomore spends one hour a month (24 hours) and earns a $1,500 scholarship, that is like being paid over $50 an hour for their time—not bad! I often compare looking for outside scholarships to working a part-time job or hours spent doing an activity outside of school. Students need to consider if this time commitment is a realistic one for their particular situation.

Look Local and Think Big

You need to look in the right places. While advertisements for scholarship services exist we suggest that you never pay a fee for any guarantee of free money. There are many legitimate places where students can look for private scholarships. Consider the relationships that you and your family have in the community. Parents and students can check with employers. Tap into local organizations that you or a family member are involved with such as the Rotary Club or Elks Club, your place of worship, or local charities. The smaller the applicant pool, the better, so check in with your school counselor since many local community-based organizations pass along information directly to the high school.

Once you have exhausted your local network connections you can start casting a wider net and look at some online scholarship search engines, which usually ask students to complete a profile survey which includes biographical and academic information. The search engine then provides a list of scholarship opportunities that match the student’s profile. It takes time and dedication to narrow down the results and discover the scholarships that are most appropriate. There are dozens of private scholarship search engines and students do not need to create a profile on every site; picking two or three different ones is sufficient.

Smaller Amounts Add Up

Scholarships come in all amounts. We encourage students to apply for a number of smaller awards as well some of the larger ones. Winning a few smaller scholarships may be easier than winning one large scholarship for $5,000. Smaller awards may have fewer applicants. Not everyone can be the Coca-Cola Scholar, right? Some scholarships have an essay component along with the application and this extra requirement causes many students to skip over these opportunities. Who really wants to write another essay? If you are not afraid of putting in the work this may just be the right scholarship opportunity for you!

Making a game plan can help you better manage a successful scholarship search. Remember this process does not end once you graduate from high school. Make sure to keep a running list of potential scholarships throughout college. Need a little inspiration? Visit the Scholarship Spotlight series on our blog to check out some of the organizations that we have highlighted in the past. Good luck and happy searching!

Determine the Best Way to Pay for College

Written by Beth Feinberg Keenan
Beth Feinberg Keenan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Before joining College Coach, Beth worked as a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Northeastern University. Visit our website to learn more about Beth Feinberg Keenan.