Capstone College and Career Advising

Hunting for scholarships

January 21st, 2015 by

If you’re counting on a full-ride scholarship to pay for college, the odds are against you. According to one much-publicized estimate, from the publisher of the FastWeb financial aid website, fewer than 20,000 students receive a completely free college education annually.

But – and this is a big but – there ARE many scholarships out there that can substantially defray the cost of college. Win four or five scholarships averaging $1,500 apiece, and you’ll have put a substantial dent in your fees. And that money may be lurking in places you don’t expect.

One student we know entered a photography competition for students, even though she wasn’t planning on majoring in photography. She submitted a photo she’d taken of the 9/11 Memorial while on a trip to New York City that year. She not only took first place and a scholarship locally, but her entry was forwarded to the state competition, where she placed second.

That’s two scholarships this student won, just for submitting a photo she’d already taken. And that’s why I encourage students to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for college money.

First stop should be your high school counselor’s office. Scholarship applications are often sent directly to the school, and your counselor will also know about local programs sponsored by civic groups, charitable foundations, local businesses, and others.

Next, visit the financial aid section on the web site of each college you are researching. Schools list not just merit scholarships, but leadership scholarships, departmental scholarships, honor program scholarships, and other school-specific scholarships.  Many colleges will also give a list of outside community scholarships as well. You may also call the financial aid office directly, to ask if they have information about other scholarship opportunities that are not available online.

Your next step is to conduct your own research, on the many sites that serve as a kind of clearinghouse for scholarship opportunities. Some we like include,,, and You can create a profile to be matched to possible scholarships, and you can also dig around on your own. Think creatively here; if you have special talents or skills unrelated to your planned major, these may help win you an award.

Finally, make sure you have checked with your parents’ employers. Quite a few businesses and corporations offer financial stipends to employees’ children, and some are awarded to all or most students who apply.

The ideal time to start the scholarship search is junior year, but no matter when you start, the key is stay organized. Keep a list of deadlines and completed applications on a spreadsheet or electronic calendar. You should also create a file where you keep transcripts, letters of recommendation, and your updated resume; you’re likely to need them all.  Finally, make a file of essays you’ve completed for college applications or other scholarships; you may be able to repurpose these for the short answer or essay requirements on scholarship applications.

If you’re applying for an award that has an interview component, treat it like a job interview: Research the background of the scholarship, including the reason it was established, the name of the donors, if applicable, and any other pertinent information. 

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. But remember, some of these “hidden” scholarships are not claimed because they weren’t publicized or they didn’t attract the right applicant.  How exciting will it be to receive a phone call or a letter, telling you that you won money that you had no idea you would get?