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Scholarship Search Tips

The good news: there are more than 3 million scholarships available in the United States! The bad news: it's tough to figure out how to begin your search without getting overwhelmed.

Fee-based services offer to match you with scholarships. Are they worth it? Here we look at the advantages and disadvantages of search methods. We also provide valuable tips to get the most from your search time and effort. To find and apply for the right scholarships is a big undertaking and very worthwhile. You can be extremely successful if you plan your search to maximize results.

We'll show you how. The process may be time consuming but it doesn't have to be difficult. With reasonable effort you can dramatically increase your probability of winning serious scholarship money.

Find Scholarships

Finding and winning scholarships is a numbers game: you have to review a lot of them in order to choose the ones to apply for. And once you find those, you should apply for ten in hopes of winning one. If you apply the same ratio in terms of the number you review, you may have to look at 100 in order to find 10 for which to apply. The good news is there are lots to choose from! Sallie Mae, the huge financial services company that specializes in education reports that their list of scholarshiops includes 3 million of them, worth over $16 billion! Clearly you need a plan to find the scholarships that are right for you.

Fee Based Services

Of course there are services that offer to take your personal information and match you up with scholarships that are a good fit for you. But are their drawbacks? Following are what we have found to be the advantages and disadvantages of fee-based services:


  1. Someone does the research work for you.
  2. You get a list of scholarships that are supposed to be a good match for you.
  3. You may get updates and alerts when new scholarships are announced.
  4. You save time by not researching opportunities yourself.


  1. You have to pay a fee for information that is available for free.
  2. The questionnaire you fill out for yourself is of course automated and your answers must fit limited parameters (that is, the result may not be a complete and accurate picture of who you are and what scholarships could in fact be good to apply for.
  3. You may receive an overwhelming list of potential scholarships you still need to review and prioritize.
  4. Updates and alerts may not be tailored to your specifications and could be time wasters.

The DIY Scholarship Search

A potentially powerful alternative is to do it yourself. If you develop a systematic approach and treat it like a job by committing dedicated time to it, you can reap great rewards. Following are our Top 12 recommendations for finding the scholarships you want to go after:

  1. Don't just look online! Your school guidance counselor is a good place to start but you should also consult the Reference Desk at your local library. Librarians are treasure troves of information and are often overlooked.
  2. Do sign up for one of the free scholarship listing services. Sallie Mae is a good place to start.
  3. Take advantage of search filtering techniques to narrow down the scholarships that provide the best match for your strengths, talents and interests.
  4. Keep an open mind: not all scholarships are for athletes or straight-A students, and you don't have to prove financial need to qualify.
  5. Think small to win big: research local opportunities offered by civic groups, religious organizations, private businesses, clubs and professional associations. Take a look in the phone book if you still have one -- you might find a calendar of events by local groups which may help you identify them. Individual scholarships may be small but they can add up, and your competition will probably be lower than for better-known, larger competitions.
  6. Check the websites and bulletin boards of schools other than your own. Nearby high schools, universities and community colleges often post opportunities on their sites with unrestricted access.
  7. If you know your desired field of study, check out professional associations related to it. They often provide scholarships to encourage students interested in their field.
  8. Use connections your parents may have, particularly if they are in a union, the military, or if their employer sponsors any scholarships.
  9. Always be on the lookout for contests: straightforward drawings as well as unusual contests like the annual Duck Tape scholarship.
  10. Don't just search for scholarships in the fall! Scholarships are available year-round, and those with deadlines in the winter often have less competition.
  11. Network! Tell everyone you know that you are looking for scholarships, especially your parents' and grandparents' friends and business contacts. You never know who knows someone who knows someone who knows of a great opportunity....
  12. Sign up for our monthly $100 Scholarship Giveaway right now -- and every month!

Once you've found the scholarships you want to apply for, it's critical that you follow some easy steps to do the best application possible. We provide some really important advice in Scholarship Application Secrets. And for more ideas on getting money for school you should definitely read our article on Stealth Student Aid.