College is an exciting time for your child. I can still feel my son’s exhilaration the day he got accepted into his top choice.

But with the ever-increasing costs of higher education, college can also be financially stressful, and minimizing the financial burden without reliance on student loans is desirable.

The good news is that there are a surprising number of scholarships out there, just waiting for your deserving student. The key is knowing where to look and how to position your child for success.

Keep reading to understand the different types of scholarships, how to find scholarship opportunities, and strategies and tips for applying.

Demystifying Scholarships

Scholarships come in all shapes and sizes and fall into two general buckets.

Bucket one is merit-based scholarships. Merit-based scholarships reward academic excellence, leadership qualities, or specific talents.

Bucket two is need-based scholarships. Need-based scholarships consider your family’s financial situation to provide assistance. 

Both these buckets can originate from colleges, professional associations, community groups, or private donors.

Phase 1: Prepare for the Scholarship Search

  • First, identify your child’s strengths and interests. 

The most successful scholarship hunts are targeted. Help your child identify their strengths, interests, and academic goals, as scholarships often cater to specific talents and pursuits.

Are they a star athlete? A budding musician? A skilled chess player? A passionate volunteer? 

  • Set realistic expectations. 

Despite your best efforts, challenges and setbacks may arise along the way. 

Address rejection with resilience and a growth mindset, viewing each experience as an opportunity for growth and improvement. 

  • Organize yourself to streamline the application process. 

To stay organized, consider creating a spreadsheet or calendar to keep track of scholarship deadlines, requirements, and application statuses.

This will help ensure that no opportunity is missed and that your child can put their best foot forward for each application.

Phase 2: Research For Opportunities

First, I suggest reaching out to your student’s high school counselor. Discuss your specific circumstances and work together to devise the most effective strategy for seeking out scholarship opportunities. 

Your child’s college counselor is a valuable resource who can provide insights into local scholarships provided by various organizations, businesses, or foundations.

Second, research college-specific scholarships. One key point I want to make is that the colleges themselves are the best source of funds for scholarships. 

Next, look locally like your employer, civic organizations, church, etc.

And finally, go online and search for potential scholarships. 

College-Specific Scholarships

Research the scholarships offered by each institution your child considers. Many colleges and universities offer their own merit-based or need-based scholarships, which can significantly reduce the overall cost of attendance. 

Also consider the selectivity of the school. Many colleges are offering significant awards to attract strong students, particularly smaller liberal arts colleges that offer excellent educational and experiential opportunities.

Visit the financial aid section of each college’s website, and don’t hesitate to contact the financial aid office directly for more information and guidance.

Community Resources – Look Locally

Don’t overlook local resources. Your local community is a great place to focus your scholarship search.

Check with your employer, explore local businesses, and community organizations. Making a quick call or email could unlock a hidden gem.

Network within your community – this can unearth more hidden gems that might not be widely advertised. Check with community groups such as Rotary clubs, religious organizations, or cultural associations, as they often award scholarships to deserving students from the area. 

Online Resources

Utilize scholarship search engines like Fastweb, Scholly, Going Merry, and Appily (formerly Cappex) to uncover potential scholarship opportunities. 

You can use these platforms to make a profile for your child and search for opportunities tailored to their interests, achievements, and demographics. You can opt for email alerts to receive notifications about opportunities matching your child’s interests. Additionally, these platforms provide guidance on application requirements.

Online search can be overwhelming but you may find some options ranging from $500-$2500 (maybe more!) if your child is willing to dig deep for search results and write additional essays.

A Note on Niche and Unique Opportunities

Don’t limit your search to traditional scholarships. There are numerous niche and unique opportunities available for students with specific majors, ethnic backgrounds, or unique circumstances.

For example, there may be scholarships for students pursuing degrees in STEM fields, for those with a particular heritage or cultural background, or for students who have overcome significant challenges.

Think outside the box and explore these lesser-known opportunities, as they can provide valuable financial aid.

Phase 3: Start Applying

Once you’ve identified potential scholarships, it’s time to tackle the applications. 

Deadlines

Deadlines are crucial – treat them as gospel! Missing a deadline disqualifies your child automatically. Follow all instructions carefully and meet deadlines without fail. 

Essays

Applications often involve essays, so encourage your child to start brainstorming early.

Guide your student in writing engaging essays that showcase their unique experiences, passions, and aspirations. Highlight achievements and extracurricular activities that demonstrate their well-roundedness and dedication beyond academics. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of proofreading and polishing application materials for a professional finish.

Letters of Recommendation

Most applications also require transcripts and letters of recommendation.

Work with your child to ensure they gather all necessary documents well in advance.

Avoid Scams

Unfortunately, scholarship scams exist. Legitimate scholarships never charge application fees. Be aware of terms like “processing cost,” “redemption fee,” or other upfront payment.

Stick to reputable search engines and resources recommended by your school counselor or trusted organizations.

Final Thoughts

Finding scholarships takes effort, but the payoff can be substantial. By starting the search early, utilizing the right tools, and crafting well-rounded applications, you can significantly increase your child’s chances of securing scholarship funds. 

While searching for scholarships, continue to explore other funding options, such as grants and work-study programs, to supplement scholarship awards. And file the FAFSA even if you think you won’t qualify for need based aid. Some schools want a FAFSA on file even for merit-based money.

Most importantly, celebrate your student’s achievements and persistence throughout the scholarship journey, recognizing the valuable lessons learned and skills honed along the way.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in any way, please schedule a free consultation to discuss your child’s college and scholarship options and don’t hesitate to reach out for support. 


Also, when you’re ready, here are three ways we can help your teen find their best-fit college:

At Stodghill College Consulting, we help each high schooler showcase their unique skills and talents, discover their own brilliant voice, and find a college that will enable them to reach their full potential as young adults.