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Finding and winning scholarships hiding in plain sight

Scholarships winners may win some redesigned $100 notes
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Ready or not college bills will be arriving soon for the college-bound and scholarships can help pay the invoice. Grants are need-based financial aid offered to students based on their financial need. Scholarships are money for winning education contests that are sponsored by businesses, employers, professional and social organizations, groups, schools and individuals. Parents and students of all ages may form a team to find and win them.

Finding scholarships

The best place to start is the federal Department of Education’s website. This site offers free tips about the scholarship process and search engines to find them. Families may also check out the student’s state grant agency for additional information.

There are private resources too. Nongovernment search engines may be helpful but some require students to register or provide personal information to narrow search criteria before accessing scholarship lists or applying for individual scholarships. Social media also may provide scholarship information. For example, entering “#scholarship” or “#scholarships” in Twitter’s search bar finds news about scholarships. A similar result happens on LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest by adding the word without a hashtag.

Parents and students may ask their employers if they sponsor any scholarships. They may also contact local clubs and religious groups. Students may question their school counselors for a list of scholarships.

Winning scholarships

Since scholarships are contests, they have different applications and rules. Student should make sure they fit all eligibility criteria. Some scholarships are reserved for students with specific interests and particular majors, ages, genders, ethnicities and geographic location. There are quirky scholarships like ones for redheaded or left-handed students as well as general ones for scholars and average students. It is up to applicants to make sure they qualify, fill out their entry correctly, package it neatly, and submit it before the stated deadline.

Many scholarships require an essay as part of the application. Students must be careful to write on the topic listed and in the format requested. For example, if the essay is described as 250 words about a current event, submitting a piece about an historical figure that exceeds word count may lead to automatic disqualification. After the student prepares his scholarship application, parents may double check that all rules were followed and help with the submission.

Monica Matthews, author of two How to win scholarships guides, is a parent who helped her son win over $100,000 in college scholarship money. She sums it up best, “To win college scholarships, you need to realize that the whole process is a lot like playing a game.” Read the rest of her article Winning the scholarship game on her website for strategies that will catch the judges’ positive attention.

Scholarship warnings

Not all scholarship offers are legitimate. Parents and students must beware of scholarship scams and never pay a fee to apply for or receive free scholarship funds.

Some colleges may reduce other awarded aid by the scholarship amount or shift other awards that don’t have to be paid back to loans that do have to be repaid. Students may check to find out the financial aid policy of schools they are interested in attending. Some scholarships have strings attached. Students should know what they are before accepting them.

Families often wait until the student’s junior year in high school to search for scholarships but it is better to start as early as possible and continue throughout the student’s education. Scholarships are available for students of all ages from elementary school through college and graduate school. Start searching and applying for scholarships now!

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