private scholarship search

Finding Private Scholarships

November was an exciting month with the receipt of the first college admit letter for my son. Watching your child’s face light up when they get their first notice of good news from a college is priceless. With that excitement, however, brings a striking reminder that a college financing plan is key as we plan to pay for this huge investment. I feel good about having already filed both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile Form, but know that there are other necessary steps to take related to financing college. Although we have been searching for private scholarships throughout the year, getting that first college admit letter kicked us into high gear. Knowing that many parents are in the same situation, I wanted to share some ideas related to the private scholarship search process.

Although the majority of financial assistance will typically come from the colleges themselves, either via need-based financial aid programs or merit scholarships, it is important to look beyond what the colleges have to offer. Private scholarships can be an important part of the college financing process and can supplement the financing provided by colleges. It does, however, take a focused and proactive search on the part of the family when looking for additional scholarships. I hope to provide you with some tips as to where to locate potential scholarship providers.

There are various private scholarship sources available to students and some of these options may be closer to you than you think! At the majority of high schools, guidance counselors will have valuable information on the local scholarships that are available to graduating seniors, from sources within the high school as well as from a variety of community groups, all wishing to support students in their educational pursuits. The guidance department will provide information to students during the school year, so it is very important that students visit their guidance office regularly to seek out scholarship opportunities that are managed at the high school level, as well as to get a handle on the required application process. Some local scholarships need to be applied for directly and some are awarded by the guidance department or special town committee. Either way, the guidance department can direct the student accordingly.

I always encourage families to also think about any affiliations, memberships, or connections that they have, and inquire about available scholarship programs at those entities. For example, think of any community organizations that you belong to, such as your local Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, Elks Club, YMCA, credit union, religious institutions, employers (of the parents and student), or other community groups, associations, or membership organizations. Also, be sure to check out any local veterans’ groups if there is a veteran in the family. Many employers, especially those with a large number of employees, offer scholarship programs for dependent children of employees or to student employees themselves; contact the employer’s Human Resource Department and inquire whether they have scholarship programs available.

Professional associations may be another area of focus for some, particularly if your child is pursuing a specific major. For example, my son is applying to nursing schools, thus some of the national and state-level professional nursing associations have provided a wealth of information related to the profession, as well as providing lists of scholarship opportunities.

Another option for looking for scholarships is via a reputable online database. Free scholarship databases are dynamic search engines that give students an opportunity to create a profile by sharing demographic information, specific academic interests and talents, and any affiliations or activities in which they have participated. In return, the search engine will provide the student with a list of possible scholarship opportunities that match the criteria that they entered into the database. After reviewing the results, students can then decide which opportunities they should pursue. Each scholarship opportunity will require a separate application and has a certain set of requirements associated with the application. I have been using for our search. I receive email updates when new scholarships meeting my son’s criteria are added to the database. The scholarships in this database are sought after by students from all around the country, so I am careful to take a realistic view of these opportunities and only focus on ones where my son meets every criterion stated and is willing to complete the often lengthy application process.

Students should also check out college financial aid websites for information on outside scholarships. Some colleges provide helpful information on scholarships that their students have previously received, which can be a great starting point for students. Students should also think outside of the box and research companies that work in the student’s proposed area of interest. Photography majors should check out Nikon and Minolta, computer science majors should check out HP and Apple, nursing majors should check with local hospitals, journalism majors should check with media companies and publications… you get the picture! Be creative and research all options!

While the colleges themselves tend to be the most lucrative sources of financial assistance for college, I encourage families to also look for additional scholarships to help defray college costs. Put the time in and apply for scholarships that seem like a logical choice based on the student’s personal demographics and the stated scholarship criteria, and you’ll be well on your way to eating into those substantial college costs. Best of luck to all of you!


Written by Jan Combs
Jan Combs is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, Jan was Director of Financial Aid at Harvard Graduate School of Education and Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Boston University. Visit our website to learn more about Jan Combs.