About the Author

College Planning

3 Ways to Identify the Best College Scholarships for You

The new college year is right around the corner. And whether you’re an incoming freshman or an experienced upperclassman, you’re going to have tuition bills to pay. The question is . . . where’s the money to pay those bills coming from?

If your parents haven’t been able to build a college fund, then you’ll be responsible for making your college experience happen. And if you know me, you know I want you to avoid student loans at all costs! It’s doable, I promise! You can make college happen by working and through scholarships and grants.

The good news is that there’s tens of thousands of scholarships out there to be had. It’s just a matter of finding them. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you apply—the answers could lead you to free money!

1) What makes you unique?

What’s something about you that stands out? Are you passionate about a hobby? Are you tall? Left-handed? Do you have a medical condition? No matter how random it sounds, you can probably find a scholarship for it. Just dig a little, and you’ll find plenty you’re qualified for. And don’t forget that small amounts add up. You may think it’s not worth it to apply for a $250 scholarship, but that could buy your textbooks! Every little bit counts.

2) What do you want to study?

Private scholarships are often very precise about qualifications, including studying a specific field or degree. You can find private scholarships for math education students, concert pianist students, food marketing students . . . the list goes on and on. You can spend 10 minutes on Google and find a detailed list of scholarships related to your field of study. Imagine what it was like for your parents—way back before the internet!

3) Where do you come from?

No matter what your heritage or background is, you can probably find a scholarship related to just that. Are you Native American? African American? Hispanic? Scholarships are out there waiting on you! Also, check out your hometown. Many groups or businesses from your hometown community probably offer private scholarships.

Every future college student should make it their part-time job to apply for scholarships and stay away from the student loan trap!

Want a place to start? Our $58,000 Financial Literacy Challenge, sponsored by Churchill Mortgage, runs from April 6 to April 25. Students can take a brief survey and financial literacy quiz at for a chance to win some awesome prizes! Seniors have a chance to win one of four $10,000 scholarships, a $5,000 scholarship, and a $2,000 scholarship. Underclassmen can win one of three $500 Amazon gift cards. Share the Challenge with the high school students in your life today!


  • Connie Cates

    Could you please list sites to apply for scholarships, especially those who are already in college?

    • Firecracker

      There is a tab at the top that says resources…hit that and the first title on the list should help you. Hope that helps. If not just type in scholarships in your search engine and start looking. Another is to ask a high school guidance counselor or college. Good luck

    • jb1907

      Talk to the people at the university about available scholarships.

    • Laura

      That’s a pretty crappy way to deal with people. There are a lot of scams out there, no harm in asking for reputable sites. Fastweb is a great one, Connie. Pay no mind to this tiny insignificant individual. Someone hurt him deeply so he takes it out on others.

    • SC

      There are lots of scams out there, Steve and if you don’t know what you’re dealing with it could hurt you in more ways that financially.

    • Sue

      I received a scholarship from Target while I was teaching and taking classes. Check corporate sites too.

    • Walter K

      Steve, you do not understand that many graduate students and older students cannot find many scholarships that they qualify for. Many, if not most, scholarships target those just coming out of high school or within a very short time after that point.

    • B is a good site that compiles scholarships, grants, and contests from various sources based on a profile that you fill out at the beginning. It’s the one I found most helpful when I was looking for scholarships in college. Good luck!

    • Bella Rose

      I also recommend Fast Web. I used that site when I was in undergrad and reiceved about $1000 from scholarships that I found off that site.

    • MRR045

      You sir are a DA… obviously not everyone is near as smart and wonderful as you. Try having a little compassion. It goes a long way and hey might make your miserable butt feel better.

    • Amber

      Maybe she just wanted a little extra help not to be lazy? Sometimes you need to be pointed in the right direction you know no need to be a bully

    • Neecy514

      Fastweb is great and they will do a profile on you and send info to you based on what might interest you. You also need to check and see what scholarship programs the college you are going to will participate in. I am a single mom who is not into extra-curricular stuff but am on an achievement scholarship for my grades which is offered by the university I attend online. Online schools can be cheaper if you consider the transportation costs and all that. Plus when in school and having kids time is always a factor. The time you spend driving could be devoted to your studies.

  • Sarah McBroom

    What about for people going back to school to get a Master’s degree? I am in my forties btw!

    • pink770

      See above responses.

  • jb1907

    There are plenty of colleges that have scholarships once you are in college as well.

  • Ask your church. Some churches are able to offer small scholarships to their students (especially if they’ve been loyal volunteers). If you’re going to a Christian college, they may even have a church matching scholarship (My alma mater, John Brown University, offered a matching scholarship for churches.

  • Rachel

    Has anyone had experiance with online colleges and scholarships?

    • MJ

      Online scholarships…..our son applied for everything he/we could find that applied to him. Only one came through in the end. It was better than none though. Our frustration came from the fact that he had worked to be the top of his class, had exceptional SAT scores, was a National Merit Finalist, LOTS of community service, but because he is shy and despises talking about himself was overlooked for scholarships that required an interview where he had to “sell” himself. THAT was/is tough. We still pursue every single opportunity we can find to secure scholarship help. Best wished to you in your search. (And if anybody has suggestions for US, please feel free!!) Thanks! n

      • Kathy

        Seriously? National Merit Finalists are offered full rides to numerous colleges. Just pick one, for crying out loud!

  • Susan Hutton

    My daughter will be a junior in high school next year. She has struggled with learning from her first day of Kindergarten thru today. Her two biggest areas are reading & math. She is more of a visual learner than trying to understand the problem from a textbook or from the teachers during class time. Is there any scholarships out there for those students who have a learning disability? She is thinking of working with Preschool aged children. Any information you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • s

      Susan, I am not sure of scholarships, but if she will need any accommodations in college, make sure she is on an IEP; otherwise she will not get the assistance in the classrrom she might need. She will have to take the classes like everyone else, but when you are checking out colleges, see what they offer for free tutoring. Many students become tutors as part of their work study programs. Also, see what staff they use, and meet those people in person, who help people with disabilities.

    • lozaka3 the link doesn’t work, just google the Rise scholarship, you will need an IEP.

    • Holly

      Susan, many states offer TEACH scholarships for students wanting to take courses in early childhood education. have her check with your local community college or 4-year college. also, make sure she gets her disability documented so she can request special assistance or modifications to her courses.

  • Rita Gibson Chambers

    Where is the scholarships for grad school. not much to choose from in NC. I have to apply for loans that require a co-signer. Please list any links that can help find college money for any grad – especially for business school. I am doing a dual degree – MBA & MSL. I am tired of taking out loans!

    • Lisa

      NC has some of the lowest grad school tuition rates I have seen compared to other states. Their rates are not hardly any more than the undergrad rates which are already very reasonable because of state subsidies.

  • S

    I would recommend that your kiddo take as many dual credits as they can in high school. The credits count as high school and college credit and are usually much cheaper. My son is taking a class right now this is only $40/credit and it will transfer to college, and he has a head start on his college education.

    • pink770

      My grandchildren had enough credits for associate’s degrees when they finished high school.

  • Candito

    I’m done with school and would like to know of resources to assist with npaying off student loans.nn I had $123,000 from earning my Doctorate in nPhysical Therapy. I recently went through FPU. I have been working on myn school loan diligently over the past 4.5 years and now owe $69,000. I nwork 1 full time job, 2 per diem jobs, and contract teach for a PT nprogram. I also have a roommate and I still live like a student….but In feel as if I need some additional help to pay off my school loans…anyn advise or resources for those of us in repayment? If I keep on the nroute I am on now, it will take me 6 more years to pay off just my nschool debt.

    • Glendal L Harris

      If you’re up for it, check the military. They have programs to pay off your student loans in return for active service.

      • Candito

        I have actually looked into that at after graduation, but I was told they would pay for school but not loan reimbursement 🙁 So now I work like crazy to try to pay it down. I actually feel more stressed about it since I went through FPU.

        • Bella Rose

          I am currently in the Army and student loan reimbursement was offered to me as an Officer Candidate. I would NOT reccomend joining the military because you want to pay off your loans. If you truly feel the need to serve your country go for it! Sometimes all that is offered to you when you enlist is taken away later in your military career for one reason or another. Nothing is concrete in the military. If you do feel the need to serve though, I would higly recommend going to Officer route to help pay your student loans off. I believe they are offering up to $40,000 in student loan reimbursment for people with medical backgrounds, and probably a direct commission, but be aware that money probably comes with a lot of caveats and if you don’t make it through training, you don’t get the moolah. I ended up not actually getting my student loans reimbursed because I got injured in Officer Candidate school and decided to go enlisted, but I am ok with that because I love serving in the Army. America!

  • Val

    A lot of scholarships go off of ACT scores. I wish I knew 20 years ago that you can take that test numerous times and they take the highest score. Also know that if you are eligible for free or reduced school lunches that you would be eligible to take the ACT test for free. (It will need information from you school guidance counselor.

    • Sherrita Fluhman

      Where do you go to find out about the ACT and being on Free/Reduced meals other than the guidance counselor?

  • Walter K

    This article, while somewhat informative, fails to give any detailed information on where to find scholarships, involve any experts, fails to target graduate and doctoral candidate students, and fails to give any reputable websites to find such scholarships. With this in mind and knowing where Rachel is targeting (High School/Undergrad ages), Rachel ignores the growing population of older college and graduate students. To this older group of students (including graduate students), we have fewer options and will more likely get student loans because of this fact that most scholarships target undergraduate students, and more specificly high school graduates. I still await a true answer to the graduate students and older students entering after years in the workforce.

    • pink770

      Search engines, or, just Google, Walter!

  • Brooke

    Our experience with scholarships has not been successful.. They are looking for parents to be dirt poor, our kids need to be purple, belong to a specific organization, come from a certain area or High school etcu2026 I use that as an example so that I don’t come across insensitive but you understand what I’m getting at I’m sure. Our kids have 3.5 – 4.0 grades and have done a lot of community service over the years and have had job during their High School years. They have applied for countless scholarships and get nothing. It’s very discouraging My husband and I pay cash for everything and have zero debt. We help our kids as much as we can but it looks like this next semester they will both have to get student loans for the first time. We can’t help any more with the rise in health care premiums and taxes. They both work but do not make enough for housing and school. I always hear there is money that goes unclaimed. I’d like to know how to get a hold of it. We sure could use the help…

    • Kathy

      Oh please, “whining”? Really? Our experience with scholarships has not been successful either. That is not whining, it is fact. The people who say there are so many scholarships out there that have not been claimed….where are they? I’ll tell you, they are for “need-based” students. My daughter is top if her class, exceptional test scores, and lots of service, but if you are not poor, they won’t even look at you. We’ve been to Fast Web and many other scholarship sites. We have spent hours and days and weeks “digging,” filling out forms, writing essays, and making that “effort.” Wasted effort. Not whining, fact.

      • pink 770

        if u are not poor, then why are u inquiring?? My daughter and her husband aren’t poor either, and are rather young, their first son is going to a state university in Georgian and they have to pay for it. He has savings and worked, also. That’s the luck of the draw. Poor, get scholarships, get a great salary or even two, then u gotta pay.nI really didn’t like the attitude that only dirt poor, Rachel’s remark , got scholarships and hard working parents ,who Bryan feels doesn’t describe poor parents, don’t ever get scholarships. My suggestion is, if you feel u won’t qualify for a need based scholarship for your children, then prepare them for merit based ones which I did. My other daughter got to pick from 3 Ivy League schools before deciding upon Princeton.

    • Jane

      Neither does a condescending reply, pink770. My kids were all over-achievers but there was clearly more money for the one in engineering than there was for the one in english. The STEM fields have far more scholarship opportunities. Just keep plugging away. Jobs at their university were also a good source of $.

  • Bella Rose

    I am planning on going to grad school online through American Military University. Are there any scholarships or scholarship search engines designed for graduate and/or online students?

  • hhques

    Are there any for graduate schools?

  • SensiblePerson

    Unfortunately, I have not been able to find much for going back to school after you already have a bachelor’s degree.

  • Grace

    People have told me constantly that I should be able to get a full ride, but as of yet I haven’t even received one scholarship. I have filled out an insane amount of scholarships, what else can I do?

  • JeanetteHM

    I went to college a long time ago when costs were not astronomical, and got full scholarships for both merit and financial need. My kids are junior and senior in high school, so we have been exploring scholarships and applying for many without success yet. As was mentioned by others, though there are tons of scholarships, you may not qualify for the vast majority. Some are random selections, so worth applying for, but the odds are not necessarily in your favor. We are middle-class, and are trying to minimize the loans we’ll need to take, but probably will end up with some debt in order for our children to get the degree they need (based on their particular skill set), in the area where the industry exists. It’s important to me that they be able to get a job after graduation, and not all professions can be done any place in the country.

  • Maureen Baglio

    How about scholarships for transfer students? Why do so many scholarships only apply to high school students? What is a safe website to search for scholarships?

  • Muhammad Yaseen

    this is very helpful information great effort.its really look linke i want to know about scholarships . i have also collect some important information from n that really help you and inspire you to get scholarships

  • JeanetteHM

    I just noticed that a comment I made in response to this article was “removed” and I have no idea why? There was nothing offensive about it, other than mildly disagreeing that every student can get the degree they want without student debt. Here was my post:nnI went to college a long time ago when costs were not astronomical, and got full scholarships for both merit and financial need. My kids are junior and senior in high school, so we have been exploring scholarships and applying for many without success yet. As was mentioned by others, though there are tons of scholarships, you may not qualify for the vast majority. Some are random selections, so worth applying for, but the odds are not necessarily in your favor. We are middle-class, and are trying to minimize the loans we’ll need to take, but probably will end up with some debt in order for our children to get the degree they need (based on their particular skill set), in the area where the industry exists. It’s important to me that they be able to get a job after graduation, and not all professions can be done any place in the country.

    • Luz Ward

      I don’t know the details of your situation but in MOST cases college can be completed debt free. If they do a connected degree program–which means they complete their basic Freshman/Sophomore classes at community college–half of a bachelors degree can be completely free. They just need to work part time and get good grades for scholarships. Is it easy? NO. But it’ll help them grow up and face reality a bit.

      • Mj

        Daughter completed one year of college so far through high school – community college program but even with a 4.0 scholarships are difficult to find/get even using all the apps and sites after filtering through the junk of highly recommended sites. Make sure you don’t sacrifice your child’s privacy. Unfortunately financial aid (excluding loans) isn’t available to us. Guess you have to live poor so the kids don’t get penalized. This is so backwards.

    • Mj

      Jeanette, feeling your pain. Middle class as well so don’t qualify for many scholarships, aid, or even government loans. The university financial aid office won’t hardly pay attention to us. Daughter has 4.0. Watching her friends get full rides for various reasons is difficult. I’ve worked extremely hard attempting to get debt free and not live poorly like my past family generations but now that we are making a bit seems the kids will be penalized. Seems like it almost better to struggle until the kids get out of college then build wealth. Applying for scholarships left and right but no luck so far.