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Acing the College Scholarship Search: How to Find College Scholarships

If college is around the corner for your child, prepare yourself for some sticker shock. Tuition and fees at an in-state public institution average more than $10,000 annually, not including room and board, books, and other expenses. And that’s a bargain compared to the $37,000 (on average) you’ll pay just for tuition at a private college.

The good news is that scholarships can decrease your expenses—and not just for kids who excel in athletics or have the top grades in their class. With a little research, your student can find numerous college scholarship sources that match their interests and abilities. In fact, you may be surprised to find some generous opportunities right in your own backyard.

Look Local First

Searching close to home is a good first strategy, says Karri Mickelson, a financial aid counselor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She’s an expert at finding scholarship opportunities.

“Local sources always have smaller pools, so students have a better chance of standing out,” Mickelson explains. Service and business organizations such as the Lions Club and Rotary Club sometimes set aside funds to help deserving local students afford college. So do many churches, synagogues, and cultural institutions.

Take for example an essay contest called Stop the Hate: Youth Speak Out, sponsored by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio. Students in grades 6-12 who live in Northeast Ohio can enter an essay describing their experience dealing with hatred, bigotry, or discrimination and how they are working to make their world a better place.

“One of the reasons the Maltz Museum offers this contest is to encourage students who are committed to making the world a more just and equitable place. It’s really an investment in the future—theirs and ours,” says Ben Becker, who manages the museum’s public programs. “Young people are uniquely poised to make the kind of changes we need to end hatred and intolerance, and we want to support them in those efforts into their college years and beyond.”

With prize money totaling $100,000 each year—including a grand prize of $40,000 for an 11th or 12th grader—a student could be well on their way to funding their college tuition simply by sharing their story.

How to Find Scholarship Opportunities

To broaden your search, Mickelson recommends using several online tools.

Start with Big Future (bigfuture.collegeboard.org). It’s the scholarship listing service of the College Board (which, among other things, administers the PSAT and SAT).

“They’ve done a lot of vetting,” Mickelson says. Two other websites, Fastweb.com and Cappex.com, have students create a profile, then match them with scholarships for which they’re eligible. Also check if your state keeps a scholarship list; ask your school’s career or college counselor, or Google “[your state] scholarship search engine.”

Hit up your high school as well. “Say you play an instrument—a lot of schools might have scholarships through the music department,” says Mickelson. “High school sports teams sometimes offer them, too.”

If your child already has a few colleges in mind, call their admissions or financial aid office; they may have special-interest scholarships (for instance, for kids who take French or do debate) but your child may need to compile and submit a portfolio to be eligible.

Other College Scholarship Sources

Inquire at your (and your partner’s) place of work; some employers offer scholarships to staffers’ children. If your child has an afterschool or weekend job, especially one with a large corporation, it’s worth asking if they have scholarships or tuition relief, too. Even smaller workplaces, such as country clubs, sometimes offer these perks to workers.

Last of all, find out if your school partners with RaiseMe.com. Starting in ninth grade, students can create a profile on the site and indicate which partner colleges they’re interested in. The schools then view the data and offer micro-scholarships for things like getting good grades, taking AP classes, and participating in volunteer activities.

With a little research and some planning ahead, your child may have set aside a tidy sum toward their college tuition by the end of high school—and that is good news, indeed.

Deborah Skolnik

Deborah Skolnik’s work has appeared in major magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Parents, and Good Housekeeping.

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