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If you’re figuring out how to pay for college, scholarships are a great place to start since you don’t have to pay them back (unlike student loans). But you might wonder how to get a scholarship in the first place.
Don’t worry — with over 1.5 million scholarships available in the U.S. worth more than $6 billion per year, there’s likely some perfect scholarships out there for you.
Here’s what you should know about scholarships and how to get them:
- There are many different kinds of scholarships
- How to find a scholarship
- Finding scholarships can take some time
There are many different kinds of scholarships
When searching for scholarships, start by focusing on the scholarships that could be a good fit for you based on your academic background, financial need, and other factors. Here are the main types of scholarships to look for:
- Need-based scholarships: These scholarships are designed for students who can’t afford the high cost of college. They range from a small award to a full-ride scholarship that covers your entire cost of attendance. Many top universities offer generous need-based scholarship programs.
- Merit scholarships: Students who have a history of good grades, submit winning scholarship essays, or demonstrate community involvement like volunteering might qualify for merit scholarships. These scholarships are awarded based on qualifications rather than financial need.
- Athletic scholarships: If you played a sport in high school, you might be able to join a team at your school, which could qualify you for an athletic scholarship. Over 180,000 student-athletes earn more than $3.6 billion in athletic scholarships each year, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
- Specialty scholarships: Businesses and nonprofits fund a long list of scholarships geared toward students from various backgrounds. This means you might qualify for a scholarship based on your race, religion, work experience, volunteering, military service, location, college major, and more. There’s a scholarship out there for just about everyone!
How to find a scholarship
Now that you know how many unique scholarships are out there, it’s time to start searching for your best fit. Keep in mind that you can apply to as many scholarships as you want, so don’t be discouraged if you’re turned down by some. Here’s how to find a scholarship that’s right for you:
- Complete the FAFSA for need-based scholarships: Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school will use your FAFSA results to put together a financial aid award offer for you. This might include need-based scholarships, grants, and federal student loan options to help you pay for school.
- Meet with a guidance counselor or your school’s financial aid office: High school and college counselors often have extensive resources for scholarships and college grants, and they might be able to make specific suggestions for your situation. The financial aid office at your school will also likely have scholarship recommendations for you.
- Search your local community: Next, explore scholarship opportunities in your local community. Churches, businesses, and nonprofits might have scholarship funds available to local high school or college students.
- Scour scholarship search engines and databases: Scholarship search websites list thousands of scholarships for just about every background. Not all scholarships are worth your time, but you never know what you’ll find. The Scholarship System is a great resource to help navigate your scholarship options.
Learn More: How to Take Out a Student Loan
Finding scholarships can take some time
There are inspiring stories of students who earned enough scholarships to pay for their entire cost of college. In fact, I did just that for my undergraduate degree. A combination of scholarships from my local Boy Scout council, university, and my high school employer added up to enough for a full-ride to the University of Colorado at Boulder.
There’s no limit on how many scholarships you can apply for, so be sure to apply for as many as you might qualify for to help you pay for college. And don’t overlook smaller awards — even a couple hundred dollars here and there adds up fast.
If you exhaust both your scholarship and federal student aid options, you might need private student loans to fill the gap. With Credible, you can check your rates with multiple lenders in as little as three minutes, all without affecting your credit score.