Finding Legitimate College Scholarships

Learn how to search for local scholarships through community organizations and national scholarships through online search engines.
A student on their phone and laptop researching scholarships

Financing college can be a challenge for many families. Thankfully, scholarships can help offset the burden by providing students with money towards their education that does not need to be paid back. One of the first places families usually look for scholarships is the internet. While a quick online search can bring up hundreds of options, it can be hard to tell the difference between a scam and a legitimate scholarship.

So how do you know which scholarships to apply for and which to avoid? One thing to be cautious of are applications that require detailed personal information that is not relevant to the scholarship itself, or scholarships that require a link to your social media profile. Some companies that claim to offer scholarships are actually just using student information for marketing purposes. Because of this, some colleges have even stopped promoting national scholarship databases, citing an inability to tell the difference between a real search engine and an attempt to collect student data.

The best route for students looking for scholarships is usually in their own backyard. Lots of local community organizations offer scholarships that students can be sure are legitimate. And since students are up against fewer applicants in a local contest, there's a greater chance that they will actually receive the award. If you're looking for scholarships, get the word out to your parents' employer(s), people within your community, and any faith-based organizations to which you belong. Your odds of winning are slightly increased whenever a personal connection is established. Also, check with your school counselor, at your local library, and in your town newspaper to find scholarship opportunities.

Of course, some national scholarship search engines can be useful. Sites like MEFA Pathway, Student Scholarship Search, and Unigo are legitimate websites that keep a large database of available scholarships. Some of these also deliver a personal list of scholarships to students based on interests, characteristics, and talents. It's not a perfect science, however, and these sites may suggest scholarships for which a student may not meet the eligibility requirements. They also occasionally promote outdated scholarships or don't provide the most updated information on a contest, so double check with the actual scholarship agency on the details before you start the work to apply.

As you research scholarships, follow our tips on additional places to look and how to navigate the search process. And remember, don't skip over a scholarship if it isn't a large amount. Even $100 can purchase a book and help you lessen your potential college loan debt.