How to Find and Apply for Scholarships

College Board Scholarship Search

What are scholarships? 

Scholarships are a type of financial aid commonly referred to as “free money” or “gift aid.” Scholarships usually require an application and are often awarded to students based on a combination of factors including merit. Merit scholarships tend to have specific requirements and are awarded to applicants based on certain skills and accomplishments and may not be based on financial need. Scholarships may be renewable, meaning you can receive scholarships for more than one year. A new application may be required along with maintaining certain eligibility requirements, such as GPA or a certain major.

Why do I need scholarships?

Scholarships are a great type of financial aid because they do not have to be repaid. Receiving scholarships can help cover the remaining bill and indirect costs, while also minimizing the amount you need to borrow in loans while in college.

What are some common scholarship application requirements?

Many scholarships require similar application materials, which commonly include:

  • The application, which can be paper or an online form. 
  • Essays, often personal statements, that provide insight into your activities inside and outside the classroom. 
  • Letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, community members, or other mentors. 
  • Honors or awards you have received, academic or otherwise. 
  • Information about your high school or college, which may include your transcript, GPA, Student Aid Report, or financial aid offer.
  • A résumé that includes any employment, volunteer, or extracurricular experiences.

Specialized scholarships may require additional information and may have a priority deadline. For example, scholarships supporting the arts may require portfolios or writing samples. Be sure to read each application thoroughly for requirements so you don’t miss any.

What should I do before college to increase my chances?

Since many scholarships are merit based, maintaining good grades and increasing your involvement in school and community activities are important. Some scholarships have GPA requirements, so keeping your grades up will help open more opportunities. Additionally, many applicants with varied extracurriculars and volunteer or job experiences may stand out. The more scholarships you’re eligible for and apply for, the better the odds you have of receiving one.

What are the best ways to find and receive a scholarship?

There is no guarantee that you’ll receive a scholarship, but there are a few things you can do to increase your chances while applying. One of the most important things to remember is that the scholarship committee wants to get to know you through the applications—you want to show why your college education is worth investing in. 

There are a few things that you can do to increase your chances, including: 

  • Start early and search year-round: No matter what stage in the college process you’re at, you should start looking for scholarships now. There are even scholarships that high school students can receive before senior year. Scholarship deadlines vary, so setting some time aside every few weeks to search and apply will open up more opportunities of securing a scholarship. 
  • Use the right search engine: Finding scholarships to apply for can be difficult, but with the right search engine you can narrow your search and find scholarships you’re eligible for. BigFuture’s scholarship search is a great resource to use.
  • Find a balance: You should apply for several scholarships—the more you apply for, the better your chances of receiving one. However, it’s important to use your time wisely. You should only apply for those you’re eligible for, based on the requirements. 
  • Research local scholarships: Local scholarships tend to have fewer applicants, meaning you may be more likely to get them. Your high school counselor or college financial aid department might have insight about where to find and apply for local scholarships. Be sure to talk to others in your community, and check with local businesses and organizations like banks and churches. 

How do I know a scholarship is legit? 

While plenty of legitimate scholarships are available, some fake scholarships are set up to scam students out of money or personal information. Using reliable search engines, like BigFuture, can help avoid this. Scholarships should always be free to apply. Some may ask for your bank account information after choosing you as a recipient, but they should not ask for this information as an application requirement. If you’re unsure, contact the organization or company providing the scholarship to ensure they are legit. 

Finding and applying to scholarships sounds like a lot of work—how can I make this process easier?

Because scholarships don’t need to be repaid, they can be an important part of making college affordable. However, we know that it might not always be feasible to spend a lot of time applying. There are a few things you can do to simplify the process and save time where possible. 

  • Start early: Prioritize getting two or three letters of recommendation, and write your essay/personal statement before you start searching to help save time.
  • Time management: Plan to spend a day or two a month searching and submitting applications with your prepared materials to avoid last-minute applications, missed deadlines, and stress.
  • Stay organized: Collecting and organizing your application materials and tracking due dates will help you stay on track and avoid missing out on opportunities. 
  • Reuse essays when possible: Many scholarship essay topics are similar, so editing one of your previously written essays to fit the scholarship you’re applying for can save you time.

With these tips and resources, you’ll be better prepared for scholarship applications and increase your chances of receiving scholarships to help cover your college costs. Check out your chance to earn $500 and $40,000 scholarships in monthly drawings offered by BigFuture to students who complete the steps to plan for college.