Scholarships can pay for your entire education. When you’re a teen, if you take the time to submit two scholarships a day, starting in early high school, that in itself will be a full-time job. A job that will prove to be well worth it.
But how do you find scholarship opportunities?
There are many ways. I don’t want to include a lot of links to specific scholarships, because the deadlines are always changing, and honestly, there are already so many great websites to help you find scholarships.
Let’s talk about a few important points first, and then I’ll show you the best websites to find scholarships for anything and everything.
Tuition Costs and Student Loans
Tuition has been on the rise for a few decades now. Many colleges are now claiming to drop the tuition prices, but they aren’t really following through. What they are doing is lowering the advertised rates,1 which are like the MSRP of college tuition. Only the wealthiest students actually pay the advertised rates, so those are the only students who feel the price reduction.
For the rest of us, the price is about the same, and will continue to rise. With rising tuition costs, and soaring student loan debt, future college students need to take caution to get a degree without financial ruin coming along with it.
With a mind-boggling $1.56 trillion in total US student loan debt, spread across 44.7 million Americans, it’s safe to say that we have a student loan problem.2 It’s one thing if someone needs a degree for a specific job, they get said degree, and then they pay off their loan within a few years from said specific job. But that’s not usually what’s happening.
Many students are getting a degree because they were told it’s the right thing to do. Or they didn’t know what to do so they just decided to go to college. There’s a big debate about how only 27% of college graduates have a job related to their major,3 and while many people think this means they didn’t need a degree, it more likely means they didn’t need a specific degree for their job.
Forbes writer, Jeffrey Dorfman, attempted to dispel the belief that college graduates are unemployed and underemployed, and he did a good job of doing so when he found that only about 2.5% of college graduates are unemployed.4 When you take into account the frictional unemployment rate, which is the rate of people who are unemployed because they’re between jobs, the unemployment rate is almost non-existent.
However, that doesn’t mean college—especially with student loans—is still the answer. It may be, but it’s not always the answer. People with degrees having jobs doesn’t always equate to people with degrees being happy with their decision. And too often I find people stuck in high-paying jobs they hate, because they have the degree for it. Moreover, if someone has the drive to finish college, they probably have the drive to get a job, so that may says more about someone’s personality than their degree.
College is a huge decision. Take the time to make sure you’re actually doing something you want in life. If you decide it is for you, take the debt-free route. If you choose an in-state school that has the accreditation you’re looking for, you’re going to save a ton. Combine that with pre-saving, working part-time through college (studies show this actually leads to better grades),5 and applying for scholarships daily throughout high school, and you’ll be miles ahead of most college graduates.
Before the Scholarship Search
Before you or your child gets started on the hunt, I suggest setting up an email account specifically for scholarships. Regardless of how many newsletter opt-in boxes are unchecked, there’s still a good chance you’ll receive junk mail and offers from many of the websites and scholarship entries. Keep that separate.
Many scholarships are for specific majors or specific programs. Others are for minority groups, athletics or other qualifications. Those are great if you’re going for that, but beware of signing up for scholarships that you don’t qualify for. It can be a huge time waster. Figure out if you qualify first.
Scholarship or Scam?
In the hunt, avoid sweepstakes. These aren’t really scholarships at all. They’re a way to win money, like a lottery, and not only do they require a lot of upfront information, but they often sell your info to third parties, which means even more junk mail and potential for scams.
How can you tell if it’s a legitimate scholarship or not? There are a few ways to know. If they require one or more of these things, it’s most likely for real:
- Scholarships require you to do something. It could be a complete essay, or just a few questions with paragraph answers, but they require some sort of input from you, more than just 100 words.
- Scholarships require documentation. Your ACT/SAT scores, prior transcripts, recommendation letters, and other documentation is typically required for real scholarships.
- Scholarships require a GPA minimum. There are some scholarships that don’t have a minimum at all, and others vary in range, but most real scholarships have some sort of minimum GPA requirement.
- Scholarships are awarded infrequently. It could be once a year, or twice, or in some cases quarterly, but it’s usually not a monthly, weekly or daily thing. Those are sweepstakes.
Sweepstakes are the opposite of the above points. They require little to nothing for your submission; they only require your basic information; they don’t care about your documentation, and they are awarded often. If you see the word “sweepstakes,” “drawing,” or “selection,” it’s probably not a real scholarship. Likewise, when you see “no essay” advertised heavily, it’s probably a sweepstake.
There are plenty of great scholarship search websites that do include sweepstakes. FastWeb, for example, is one of the most robust scholarship search engines, and while it has a lot of awesome scholarships, it may have even more sweepstakes. So be cautious with that website. It’s still a good tool, but I didn’t want to put it in the official list below, due to the large number of sweepstakes, especially since they virtually all claim to be scholarships when they really aren’t.
Now, these are the best websites to help you find legitimate scholarships…
This is one of the most popular scholarship websites, and for good reason. You’ll find a lot of legitimate scholarships with its user-friendly search engine. This is my personal favorite scholarship tool.
This is College Board’s scholarship search. They have a great search engine, and an insane amount of scholarships. College Board also has all kinds of tools, especially for test prepping.
Your child may not qualify for the majority of these scholarships, but there are still plenty of good opportunities. And a quick, filtered search will help you find the ones that apply to you.
Another great place to find scholarships and other tools. They also have a great search engine that makes it much easier to find your specific scholarships.
With over $3 million in scholarships, you’re bound to find something that fits your child’s criteria. You can hop on and do the search without providing your personal data, so that’s a plus.
There are some ads, but that’s the only drawback, and that’s really not a big deal. This is a great search engine with lots of opportunities.
This is a really neat list, filtered by criteria. You can browse the pages, based on the specific type of scholarship. It’s a great way to learn what all of the options are, depending on your situation. So check these lists out. There may be a handful of sweepstakes on here, but not many.
There are some great scholarships here, but watch out for the sweepstakes. Most of those come up as “sponsored,” and if you follow the guidelines above for spotting sweepstakes, you’ll be safe. Look for the real ones.
Another great list, and search tool, to find scholarships. They have thousands of scholarships, broken down by type and qualification.
While you’ll likely run into some sweepstakes here, there are too many good scholarships to leave it off the list. You can search from almost 4 million scholarships. You’re going to find something you can apply for.
Go Find Your Scholarships
The US Department of Education put together the website, FederalStudentAid, which teaches you everything else you need to know about scholarships. There’s some great info on finding and applying for scholarships.
Finally, it may be worth looking into the Merit Scholarship List. It’s going to cost you about $20/month, but it could be well worth it if it gets you an extra few thousand in scholarships. This is totally optional though. There’s enough info above to find plenty without paying for a tool like this.
Further Book Reading
Last Updated: August 12, 2020
- T, Bernard. (2019, August 9). More Private Colleges Are Cutting Tuition, but Don’t Expect to Pay Less. NY Times.
- Student Loan Hero Staff. (2019, February 4). A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2019. Student Loan Hero. | Delisle, J. (2019). Graduate Student Debt Review. New America.
- Plumer, B. (2013, May 20). Only 27 Percent of College Grads Have a Job Related to Their Major. The Washington Post.
- J, Dorfman. (2017, January 23). Dispelling the Myth of Underemployed College Graduates. Forbes.
- A, Hess. (2017, October 5). Students Who Work Actually Get Better Grades—But There’s a Catch. CNBC.