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7 tips for finding college scholarships

Here's how you can start your search for college scholarships.
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Students looking for college scholarships have many options available to them today. While identifying the best ones and applying to them can take up a lot of time, the benefits can be big. Scholarships, unlike loans, don’t have to be paid back. So while it may be a lot of work to apply, it’s definitely worth it if you win one. Parent Toolkit asked student financial aid and college planning expert Mark Kantrowitz for his favorite tips for parents and students who are seeking scholarships.

1. Start your search early

It’s never too early to begin the search for college scholarships. As soon as you begin applying for college you should begin the search. It is also good practice to look for scholarships throughout the course of high school so that it becomes second nature. There are a lot of different scholarship options that come in a variety of places. Companies like Dr. Pepper and Duct Tape offer quirky scholarships to students ranging from $1,000 to $100,000.

2. Coordinate with the school counselor

School counselors and academic advisors often have information about scholarship information that you might not find elsewhere. They might be able to suggest unique scholarships based on your individual talents, extracurricular activities, ethnicity or athleticism.

3. Ask the college or university

Similar to coordinating with the school counselor, check with advisors within the financial aid office of the schools you’re applying to or have been accepted to. Most schools have scholarship opportunities listed on their website along with search tips, external links and FAQs. If there is something that isn’t listed on the website, reach out to someone in the office directly.

4. Pay attention to the deadlines

There’s nothing like missing out on money because you missed a deadline. Most scholarship applications have hard deadlines because of the amount of applications they may receive. A good way to stay on top of deadlines is to add them to a calendar and set reminders. For high schoolers, the prime time to apply is the summer of junior year going into senior year and then throughout the entire senior year. College students can typically find scholarships year-round on their school’s website and within the financial aid office.

5. Search both online and in your community

While many searches for scholarships begin on Google, the Department of Education recommends using the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool. Another place to look is at foundations, community organizations, and religious groups. Ask around at local business to see if they have any community scholarships –if they don’t have one, they might be inspired to create one. Parents, you can also inquire about scholarships with your employer to see if your company offers financial assistance. Some organizations will have the information posted on their websites but others may not be explicit. There are other free online resources like Edvisors, Fastweb and Big Future that allow you to search for scholarships.

You may need to inquire over the phone, pay them a visit or ask around so that you can be put in touch with the right person.

6. Apply, apply, apply

When it comes to scholarships, Kantrowitz says, “In order to win you have to apply.” You should apply for every scholarship you’re eligible for and no amount should be too small or too large to deter you from applying.

7. Beware of scams

There is a lot of information regarding scholarships on the internet and a lot of it is free. But there’s also scholarship information that for-profit organizations solicit. According to the Federal Trade Commission, every year several hundred thousand students and families are conned by scholarship scams. Those bogus scholarships typically are advertised as “unclaimed aid” that can be claimed from the government, or “guaranteed money” that you end up paying a small application fee for without ever receiving an award. Another form of a scam is when an organization charges a fee to match students with other scholarship organizations. You should never pay a company or organization to apply for free money.

Now that you have these simple tips, what are you waiting for? Get out there and apply!

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Mark Kantrowitz, Publisher and VP of Strategy, and Sharon Sevier, Advocacy Director, Missouri School Counselor Association.