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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

​​How to Find Unique Scholarships to Finance Your Education

Each year thousands of students accumulate thousands of dollars in debt in order to finance their education. The cost to attend college is growing every year. A study by The College Board found that cost increased by 21% from 2010 to 2020. The average cost of attendance increased by about four thousand dollars annually.

It can be difficult to locate funding sources, and even harder to find scholarships or grants which don’t need to be repaid.

That said, there are thousands of scholarships available to students. You simply have to know where to look.

Types of Scholarships

Most scholarships are merit-based. This means that they are based on the academic and personal achievements of the recipient. For instance, you may receive a scholarship to a university because you were valedictorian of your high school or because you have excelled on standardized tests.

However, scholarships may also be awarded based on other talents or abilities. For instance, students may be awarded athletic scholarships. These are competitive scholarships and may be offered in basketball, football, swimming, lacrosse, and more. The average athletic scholarship is $18,000. However, only about 1% of all students qualify for this kind of scholarship.

Those who are interested in service, may qualify for a scholarship oriented toward community service. To receive an award like this, students must demonstrate a strong commitment to providing service in the community both in the past, and in the present.

Some scholarships are also based on writing ability. These essentially operate like an essay contest. Students will be asked to write an essay on a certain topic and that essay will be judged on its own. This means that the applicant’s GPA, test scores, and resume are not considered.

Other scholarships are based on diversity. Those of certain religions, races, ethnicities, or gender may be eligible for certain scholarships. A great place to look for this sort of scholarship is on the websites of identity-based organizations.

There are also scholarships awarding musical talent, dedicated to those in the military, and those who have financial need.

Scholarships may be one-time awards, may be awarded for each year someone is in school, or may cover the full cost of tuition. It is important to carefully read each award to understand what it stipulates and to see whether or not scholarships can be combined. Remember, even “small” awards add up. Further, organizations who offer smaller awards often have fewer applicants. If you’re willing to put in the work, you may have a better chance of being rewarded.

Who Offers Scholarships

Many private companies, nonprofits, social organizations, professional organizations, and religious groups offer scholarships. Some employers and schools also have scholarship options.

A great way to search for scholarships is to get in touch with the financial aid office of the school you will be attending. However, there are also many other places to search for scholarships. You can ask your high school counselor who should have a list of local scholarship options and check the websites of organizations who match your interests. It can also be helpful to explore community organizations, religious groups, and even your parents’ employers.

Many employers offer scholarships for the children of employees. If you are employed yourself, check with your own employer. You may never know a scholarship is available unless you ask.

You can also find scholarships simply by doing a Google search. Be sure to verify each scholarship's legitimacy. There are plenty of websites out there which list scholarship options. Remember, scholarships will never have an application fee so refrain from any website which asks you to pay to apply.

Other Advice

Search Early and Document Deadlines

It is critical to start the search for scholarships early. Many scholarships have very early deadlines. Some are a year prior to when the school year starts.

When you are almost done with your junior year of high school, start your search. Document any scholarship you find and then carefully read the requirements of each application. Some may be so similar that you can recycle some of your application materials.

Once you have narrowed down which scholarships you want to apply to, make sure you carefully document each scholarship deadline. Write in weekly reminders in your calendar if you need extra assistance remembering which scholarship application you need to work on when.

Read Applications Carefully

Each scholarship will have different requirements and criteria. It is critical to read the requirements for each scholarship carefully. It is also imperative to make sure you complete every component of the application. Don’t leave anything blank or your application may not be considered.

Similarly, there may be very specific rules which are easy to overlook. For instance, you may be asked to use a certain font or to, in addition to submitting your application online, email it to a certain individual.

Another reason it’s so important to do research early is because some scholarships will require that you complete the FAFSA in order to be considered.


When examining all of your scholarship options, it can seem overwhelming. You may think there’s no chance that you will be awarded anything substantial. However, many scholarships are not as competitive as you might imagine.

Take your shot. Remember that even being awarded small scholarships can help bring your cost down. Further, many small scholarships add up and lead to substantial savings.

If you never apply, you’ll never know.


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