How to find scholarships for college

Mark KantrowitzBy: Mark Kantrowitz | 

Scholarships provide free money for college. To win a scholarship, you must demonstrate some skills, such as chasing round objects on a field, creating a prom costume out of duct tape or getting great grades. But, before you can win a scholarship, you must find some scholarships.

Incidentally, there really is a duct tape scholarship. The winning costume is worth $10,000 for college. Visit stuckatprom.com to see pictures of previous winners, who demonstrate incredible talent.

Tools for finding college scholarships

Start your scholarship search at a free online scholarship matching service.After youanswer a bunch of questions about your background, they match you with a large database of scholarships, showing you only the scholarships for which you are eligible. It is then up to you to apply for these scholarships and maybe win.

These are fifteen of the best and most popular free scholarship search sites:

Making the most of a scholarship search site

Maximize the number of matches by answering the optional questions. Students who answer the optional questions, on average, tend to match twice as many scholarships as students who answer just the required questions.

The purpose of the optional questions is to match the student with specific scholarships. For example, there’s a question about students who have been affected by cancer because there are a few dozen scholarships for students who have or had cancer or whose parents have or had cancer. There’s even a scholarship for students whose sibling has or had cancer. The only way to match students who have been affected by cancer with these scholarships is to ask the appropriate questions.

There are many optional questions. Most students will be able to answer several of them. Each optional question corresponds to several additional scholarship matches. So, take the time to answer them.

Google Scholarships Scholarships Scholarships

You can also use Google, everybody’s favorite web search engine, to find scholarships. Just combine a keyword with the word “scholarships” to find matching scholarships. For a different set of matches, add the word “scholarships” to the search query a second time.

For example, to search for science scholarships, you might search for each of these query terms:

  • science scholarships
  • science scholarships scholarships
  • science scholarships scholarships scholarships

Using more specific terminology will help identify scholarships that represent a more specific match. For example, in addition to searching for “science scholarships”, search for “chemistry scholarships” and “biochemistry scholarships”.

Of course, most of the free scholarship matching services have already done this. It is one of the many tools they use to find new scholarships.

Search for scholarships offline too

Just because today’s students live their lives online, doesn’t mean the offline world can’t help students find scholarships.

Parents and grandparents can ask their employer’s human resources office for help finding scholarships. Many companies offer scholarships for their employees and their children. Some even provide scholarships for the grandchildren of employees. Parents who belong to a union can also ask about union scholarships.

Check with local community foundations. Other sources of scholarships include religious organizations, fraternal organizations, civic groups and national professional membership organizations.

Ask local businesses if they offer a scholarship. If they say no, ask why not? Giving out scholarships is a good way to give back to the community and increase foot traffic.

Also ask yearbook publishers and companies that make class rings.

Find scholarship listing books in the local public library or bookstore, near the jobs and careers section. Such books are good for random exploration. But, check the copyright date before relying on a book. If it is more than a year old, it is too old to be useful. Also look for information about local scholarships on bulletin boards located nearby, as well as outside the school counselor’s office. Scholarships can also sometimes be found in the coupon section of the local Sunday newspaper.

Beware of scholarship scams

Scholarships are about giving money, not getting money. If a scholarship search site or a scholarship application charges a fee, no matter how innocuous, avoid it. If you have to pay money to get money, it’s probably a scam.

The scam might call it an application fee, guarantee fee, deposit, taxes or something else that sounds plausible. But, you should never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or to apply for scholarships.

Also be careful about requests for unusual personal information. Never answer questions that ask for your Social Security Number, bank account number or credit card number. Scholarship providers are not required to issue 1099s or other tax forms to scholarship recipients.


Mark Kantrowitz

Mark Kantrowitz

Publisher and VP of Research
Mark Kantrowitz is a nationally-recognized expert on student financial aid, scholarships and student loans. His mission is to deliver practical information, advice and tools to students and their families so they can make informed decisions about planning and paying for college.