Outside Scholarships Part II: 7 Successful Search Strategies - College in 321

Outside Scholarships Part II: 7 Successful Search Strategies

Written by Kathy deJong

February 26, 2020

Outside College Scholarships Part II: 7 Successful Search Strategies

Looking for free money? Do you think that outside scholarships will be part of the equation for paying for college? Before you make any assumptions, read my blog – Part I: Outside Scholarships 101. Once you’ve decided that scholarships are worth the time and effort, determine whether you will be a passive or active “looker” because it can make a big difference in results. If you consider that there is no guarantee your student will get ANY scholarships, it’s important to determine your family’s commitment to this process and be prepared for uncertain results. In Part III we’ll cover strategies for the active looker, but for now, here are 7 tips for how to go about finding potential scholarships, in priority order.


  1. Always prioritize the local scholarship search starting with your high school. It’s a matter of the numbers. Local scholarships tend to have fewer applicants which increases your chance for success. Place #1 for the outside scholarship search is your high school. Your high school counselors know exactly where some of the local scholarships are because local scholarship committees will often ask counselors to select a recipient or nominate a recipient(s) to be considered for their award. Your high school will often have a website (or other resources) with a list of scholarships and the application requirements.
  2. Once you’ve got the info from your high school, search the websites of other high schools in the area to see what you can uncover. Nearby communities also have local scholarships that may be available to your student, but they may not be widely publicized in your high school. 
  3. Investigate scholarship opportunities offered by parent employers or member organizations. This can include credit unions, professional organizations, veteran organizations, churches, scouting, etc.
  4. Determine the community organizations in your area with a mission that includes improving college affordability and accessibility. They may act as a centralized clearinghouse for scholarships. Again, your high school guidance department should know the names of these organizations. You can always ask a parent of a recently graduated student; they will likely know.
  5. Look at the state level. A simple web browser search of “scholarships for high school students in (name of your state)” will elicit lots of results, including large scholarship search engines/databases (see #7 below). Try to find the sites that are specifically geared to your state and search those first.
  6. Do a web search for a specific characteristic of your student + scholarship. The best scholarships to apply to are ones that limit the number of potential candidates. So if your student is into fencing, search “fencing+scholarships”
  7. Finally, you can sift through websites and resources that house thousands of scholarship listings. Some will offer filters to narrow the results. More popular sites include Scholarships.com, Niche.com, Fastweb.com, and Bigfuture.collegeboard.org. Remember, these sites are well-known to most college-bound students, so there are few undiscovered gems that don’t have hundreds if not thousands of applicants. Another resource is The Ultimate Scholarship Book.


There are some things to know as you search, particularly in the large search engines.


  • The information in the search engine may be out of date and detail information from the previous year’s scholarship guidelines. You must not only look for the scholarship in the search engine but follow the link to the actual scholarship webpage to get the latest information including this year’s deadline.
  • The scholarship search engine links may be broken because the scholarship sponsor has moved the scholarship information on their website. In this case, enter the name of the scholarship or the scholarship sponsor in your web browser and search the results to see if the scholarship still exists.
  • Scholarships are often here today, gone tomorrow. Be prepared to find the perfect scholarship opportunity only to find the last time it was offered was 3 years ago.
  • Be aware that many scholarships are actually sweepstakes or ploys to gain your contact and personal information. They are usually based on nothing but entering your personal information and a drawing “to win”. You will be setting yourself up for unsolicited marketing efforts.


Following these steps should achieve good results. Please remember that the student should be the one completing the majority of the application elements, but there are additional ways parents can help to make the process more efficient and allow more time for scholarship applications. I’ll cover this in Part III of this series. 


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