“Billions of dollars worth of scholarship money!”
Every major scholarship search website or book has a headline about how much money all the scholarships listed add up to (usually millions or billions). Their math isn’t wrong. Those dollars are there waiting for people to win, but many students don’t know how to discover scholarships they can win. And with COVID-19, the hunt for scholarships is desperate, so you must know how to find scholarships in 2021—the right ones for you.
According to a study by Scholly on how COVID-19 has affected college students, 54% of students are searching for more scholarships https://www.theeducationmagazine.com/education-now/scholly-app-covid-19-student-survey/. The economic impacts of COVID-19 mean it is harder to have the money to pay for college, so more students need to fill the gap between what they can afford and their universities’ tuition.
Thus, if you want to win scholarships, you need to excel at not only searching for scholarships but finding the right ones. So how do you find excellent scholarships you can win?
9 Steps to Finding Scholarships in 2021
Every person is qualified for some scholarship (whether they are an honor student or a below-average student). You can find scholarships you will win, but the key is to be relentless, optimistic, and focused. These steps will guide you through the entire process of finding scholarships and selecting ones you can win.
#1 Set a Scholarship Financial Goal
How can you win the money you need if you don’t know how much it costs to go to college? The first major mistake you can make in looking for scholarships is not having a financial goal. A goal keeps you on track so that you don’t try for too few scholarships. It gives your mission a more powerful motivation for you to keep searching and applying for scholarships.
Figure out your financial goal by visiting the websites of your college choices.
- Find the cost of tuition and housing. Then multiply the yearly tuition cost by the number of years it will take to complete your degree.
- Next, look at the cost of housing per year and multiply it by the number of years you will use on-campus housing.
- Then estimate how much textbooks, a computer, and any other educational materials will cost you. According to the College Board, in 2019-2020, the average full-time college student on campus spent over $ 1,200 on textbooks https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/slideshows/ways-to-cut-your-textbook-costs. Yikes!
- Add up the cost of tuition, college expenses, and any housing costs you have.
That number is your financial goal. If the number seems improbable, take a deep breath. Your university will offer a financial package that can cover some or most of these expenses.
One shortcut to this process is the net price calculator. A net price calculator estimates college costs based on a series of questions about your circumstances. If your college choices don’t have one, check out the College Board’s Net Price Calculator https://professionals.collegeboard.org/higher-ed/financial-aid/netprice/participating-schools.
After you know these estimates, set your financial goal and write it down in a scholarship binder, and someone place you will see it regularly.
#2 Create an Organization System for Scholarships
Before you dive into searching for scholarships, find a place to store all your information about each organization, website, requirements, applications, and deadlines.
I recommend creating a binder with sections for general research and recommendations, information about you like your grades, courses, and resume. I also suggest you create sections for each scholarship and a calendar with a schedule for everything you need to do.
Another option is to create a digital folder (like in a Google Drive or Dropbox). Think of what will work best for you, but make sure you won’t lose it (either physically or digitally).
#3 List Your Unique Characteristics
Dive into what makes you unique. You are more than your grades and standardized test scores (or even a list of extracurricular activities or sports). Think outside of the box about things that make you different because there are scholarships based on unique things you possess.
In addition to the things above (your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, etc.)
- List your work experience, community service/volunteer experience, interests, and hobbies.
- Add things you are passionate about and things you value.
- List your religion or faith
- List any illness or disability you have.
- List any ethnicity or ancestry you have. Also, are you a first-generation college student?
- List things about your goals in life (career, education, personal)
- Brainstorm authors, artists, scientists, etc., you admire.
- Include the employers of people in your family (some companies offer scholarships to their employees’ family members. Also, remember to check for scholarships a business you work for offers.
Organize your characteristics in a document for your binder or folder so that you can refer to it as you search for scholarships.
#4 Contact your School Guidance Counselor
Most guidance counselors have a list of scholarships sent to them. If you are in high school, go and ask for that list. Usually, the list is updated monthly or whenever new scholarships become available. The more you know your guidance counselor, the more likely they will think of you when a scholarship that matches your qualifications becomes available.
#5 Search Scholarship Internet Sources & Books
Many websites offer a listing of scholarships. When you visit these websites, make sure you are visiting a secure website. These websites provide you with brief descriptions of scholarships, information about who can apply, deadlines, and links to the scholarship website. Some popular places to search are The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search, The Sallie Mae Scholarship Search https://www.slmscholarships.com/, and UNIGO https://www.unigo.com/.
I also love the book, The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2021 by Gen and Kelley Tanabe. The authors update the book every year. In this year’s edition, they listed 2764 scholarships. You can search the directory by field of study, career, interests and hobbies, state of residence, ethnicity, religion, disability, and more.
#6 Search Google with Scholarship Keywords
A lot of times, people fall into an endless abyss of results for scholarships. It’s not that searching Google is terrible, but searching Google without the right keywords will lead you astray.
The best way to search for scholarships is to use the keyword phrase: subject/topic and the word scholarship. Also, make sure you add quotes around the keywords so that the only results you get are for that exact phrase. Otherwise, Google will bring up results that have those words anywhere in their description.
Here are some example keyword phrases, “Technology Scholarships” or “Technology Scholarships for High School Students” “Librarian scholarships.” When you skim through the search results, don’t look at any websites beyond the first 3 webpages. After that, the search results will become less relevant.
#7 Look for Scholarships Offered by Local Organizations and Businesses
Brainstorm a list of organizations and businesses in your area. Some organizations you can check are non-profit organizations, environmental organizations, educational organizations, and music or theater organizations.
Many local businesses offer scholarships. Some of these scholarships are ones you don’t find via Google or Internet Directories. Several credit unions in my area offer scholarships, but it isn’t easy to find out about them if you don’t check their websites.
#8 Work for a business that has scholarship or tuition assistance programs
Another avenue to explore is to work for an employer that has a scholarship or tuition assistance program. McDonald’s has a tuition assistance program for its employees who work at least 15 hours per week. Chick-Fill-A offers The Remarkable Futures Scholarships to restaurant employees.
If you’re vegetarian (like me) and don’t want to cook meat, some major retail stores offer scholarships. Walmart has an associate scholarship available to employees who have worked at Walmart for at least six months.
An advantage of working for these employers is that you not only can win scholarship money, but you can save up the money you earn working for them and use that for college expenses.
#9 Select Your Scholarships
After you have a list of scholarships, record the vital information about each one:
- The scholarship name and sponsor
- The website with a link to the description page.
- The Scholarship description and requirements.
Look over that information and assess how well you fit the requirements. Are you a close match, does this interest you? When is the deadline? Add the scholarships you wish to apply to your binder or folder. Save the other ones somewhere else (in case you need them). Select your scholarships and apply to them.
Now that you know how to find scholarships in 2021, organize your research in the Free At-A-Glance Scholarship Research and Analysis Quick Sheet! Download your free copy below!