Across the country, community organizations, foundations, non-profits, and corporations offer scholarships to help students pay for college. Known as private or outside scholarships, these funds are obtained through a separate nomination or application process. And they can make a significant impact in helping cover college costs.

Where to look

Start with the high school guidance office. School counselors often keep an updated list of local scholarships, either in paper form or on the school’s online portal. Compared to national scholarships, local scholarships only attract a small pool of applicants – those eligible students within the region – and are therefore generally easier to win.

Look for opportunities at work. If you’re a student with a summer or part-time job, see if your workplace offers scholarships for staff members headed to college. And have your parents check with their places of work for scholarships dedicated to children of employees.

Seek out professional associations. Are you aspiring to work in a specific career field? Research professional groups related to that vocation. Many offer scholarships to students interested in pursuing a job in that line of work.

Use a search engine. There are several reputable websites that provide scholarship search tools. Try one (or more) of these:

Cost

Never pay a fee to apply for a scholarship. Plenty of free online search engines exist (see above), and they have the same scholarships as those that require a fee.

Tips for earning scholarships

  • Start searching early. There are scholarships open to children as young as 5 years old, so don’t wait until senior year of high school to start looking.
  • Stay organized. As you find scholarships to apply for, keep a running list of deadlines, scholarship amounts, and requirements. Create a spreadsheet that you can easily reference and update.
  • Set a weekly goal. You’re more likely to earn a scholarship if you submit an application for several, so set a goal to apply to a certain number of scholarships every week.
  • Try for scholarships that require an essay. In general, fewer students apply for scholarships with a written requirement, so your odds for winning are a bit higher if you take the time to apply.
  • Look for scholarships related to favorite activities. Scholarships are often catered to students with specific interests or talents. Make a list of your extracurricular activities – sports, music, art, clubs, etc. – and search for scholarships that award students with those interests.
  • Clean up your online profile. Agencies awarding scholarships may do a quick search to seek out any public information about you online. Make sure your internet presence is professional and mature, and remove any material from your public social media pages that doesn’t represent your best self.

The financial aid effect

Once you receive a private scholarship, you should alert the financial aid office at each college to which you’ve applied. If you’re receiving need-based financial aid, your private scholarships will need to fit within the total amount of your financial aid eligibility, which is determined by the college cost and your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The financial aid staff will work with you to maximize the amount that you can receive in private scholarships without affecting your financial aid. For specific questions, contact each college’s financial aid office.