If you’re hoping to fund some, or all, of your college career with scholarships, you’re in luck: There are billions of dollars in scholarship and grant money awarded each year.
You don’t need to be a valedictorian or football star to win scholarship money – there are scholarships for all types of students. But you do need to put some effort into your search.
“What I find is that the students who are most successful – they treat this almost like a mini job,” says Kim Stezala, author of “Scholarships 101: The Real-World Guide to Getting Cash for College.”
“They are looking at multiple sites. They are entering profiles on different sites. They’re assessing, ‘Is this a good match? Is there too much competition? Do I have a good chance of winning?’”
Stezala recommends picking just two sites to start, then expanding your search if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Here are 10 sites to choose from to get started.
1. Scholarships.com: The free scholarship search is one of the most established and robust, tracking a reported $19 billion in scholarships. “It’s basically like an eHarmony site for money,” says Elizabeth Hartley, an independent education consultant and owner of Scholarship Gold Consulting.
After you fill out a profile, the site will use your criteria to filter through all scholarships to generate a short list.
“Based on your answers, it’ll try to match the student to scholarships that may be a fit,” Hartley says.
2. Fastweb.com: Fastweb, owned by parent company Monster.com, is also a free scholarship search provider that claims to have more than 1.5 million scholarships in its database. Like scholarships.com, the site will find scholarships in its database and email you matches, deadlines and newsletters.
“I like it because it’s got such a huge database,” says Monica Matthews, who helped her son win more than $100,000 in college scholarships and is author of “How to Win College Scholarships.”
3. Chegg.com: Chegg is a textbook website that has a scholarship search function, offering more than 25,000 scholarships. The site also offers online tutors to help students with their scholarship essays.
“They’re definitely trying to stay on top of what’s new on the market in terms of scholarships,” Hartley says.
4. Cappex.com: Cappex allows students to search both schools and scholarships, with a database of more than $11 billion in scholarships. A proprietary calculator also allows students to gauge their chances of getting into prospective schools with user-generated data.
And while the site doesn’t break down students’ chances of getting a scholarship, Stezala says she likes it because it provides a “reality check” on whether they may get admitted to schools that give out a lot of scholarship money.
5. JLV College Counseling: Jessica Velasco, a former admissions officer, started JLV College Counseling, which offers information on various scholarships. Velasco also posts scholarships every Saturday on her Facebook page with upcoming application deadlines. Via her blog, Velasco offers scholarship and college admissions tips and advice.
6. The College Board: The College Board’s comprehensive BigFuture site helps students look up information about colleges and how to pay for school. Its scholarships search engine provides information on more than $6 billion in scholarships, financial aid and internships.
7. Niche.com: On Niche.com, students can gain a sense of each school’s “personality,” Hartley says, by reading student reviews. They can also search for scholarships. Niche pairs students with the scholarships that match their qualifications, with student-friendly categories like no-essay scholarships.
8. Your high school website: Don’t overlook your own high school’s website, which may have a list of local scholarships. These scholarships can have less competition than those posted to national databases, Matthews says.
Stezala adds that if your high school doesn’t have a list, you should check websites of other area high schools. “Some will post it publicly, and some won’t,” she says.
9. Community foundation website: Like your high school website, families should check local community foundations’ websites, which may also host a list of area scholarships.
“You have to look at what is available in your local community, which may not show up on these large national websites,” Stezala says, adding that there are lots of local scholarships from social organizations, like the Elks Lodge, or veterans groups such as the American Legion.
10. College websites where you’re applying: Although not all schools award merit-based scholarships, those that do are very valuable because they’ll likely renew all four years.
But the process for giving out scholarship money varies from school to school. You should also check the department of the major you’re considering, which may have its own scholarships and process for awarding them.
“Go to the college’s website, type in the word ‘scholarships’ and see what process the college will be using to give out their scholarship opportunities,” Hartley says.
By Deborah Ziff Soriano