Billions of dollars in 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 after COVID-19, the hunt for scholarships is more competitive, so you must know how to find scholarships that you suit you and fit you best. 

According to a study on how COVID-19 has affected the scholarship application process,  54% of students are searching for more scholarships (Scholly 2021). The economic impacts of COVID-19 mean it is harder to have the money to pay for college—more students need to fill the gap between what they can afford and their university’s tuition.

If you want the best chance to get scholarship money, you need to excel at not only searching for scholarships but finding ones that match your interests and strengths. 

So, how do you find excellent scholarships you can win? 


9 Steps to Finding Scholarships You Can Win

Every person is uniquely 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 how to find scholarships. 


#1 Set a 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 people 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. If you are going for a Bachelor’s degree, I suggest using the number 5 (if it takes you an extra year to graduate).
  • 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, computers, and other educational materials will cost. According to the College Board, in 2019-2020, the average full-time college student on campus spent over $ 1,200 on textbooks. 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:

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 to Keep Track of Scholarship Information

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, and other things about you. 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.) Include any of the things about yourself. 

  • Issues or things you are passionate about and things you value.
  • Any religion or faith you believe in.
  • Any illness, disability or health condition you have. There might be specific scholarships for medical concerns. Ex) The Epilepsy Scholarship
  • An ethnicity or ancestry you have. Also, are you a first-generation college student?
  • Ideas 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.
  • List organizations you or your family members belong to, as these may also offer scholarships.
  • Brainstorm interests you have.

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 Websites


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,,  The Sallie Mae Scholarship Search, and UNIGO  

I also love the book The Ultimate Scholarship Book by Gen and Kelley Tanabe. The authors update the book every year. You can search the directory by field of study, career, interests and hobbies, state of residence, ethnicity, religion, disability, and more. I have recommended this book to my students every year. 



#6 Search Google with Scholarship Keywords


Searching Google can be tricky, and many 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” followed by the word “scholarships.” 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,” “Technology Scholarships for High School Students,” and “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. 

Another thing you want to consider is which Google Search you use. With the Google Search paper, keywords work well. 

If you use Google Search Generative Text, where you ask a question and it shows you results, you may spend a lot of time getting fewer results.  As of this blog post, that is a fairly new feature, which makes its usefulness in finding scholarships hard to predict. 



#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 Offers a Scholarship or Tuition Assistance Program


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-fil-A offers the Remarkable Futures Scholarships to restraint employees. If you’re vegetarian 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:

  1. The scholarship name and sponsor
  2. The website and link to the description page.
  3. The scholarship description and requirements.
  4. Eligibility
  5. Deadline

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. 

Want to learn how to decide which scholarships are for you? Download my free guide, The Scholarship At-A-Glance Quick Sheet to find the scholarships that suit you! 



Scholly releases COVID-19 student Impact survey. (2020, September 17). Retrieved February 10, 2021, from