How to Find “Matching” College Scholarships

If you haven’t searched for scholarships and scholarship search services, do it now. Learn what scholarships and grants are offered by foundations, clubs, businesses, and organizations and receive e-mail reminders of when to apply. Consult your high school counselor for information regarding local scholarships.

Must-Know Information

When you have compiled all the information for scholarships to which you want to apply, you will need to request applications. Over the next months, assemble the required document packets (application forms, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.) for these scholarships (see WARNING below).

Some scholarship organizations require you contact them through the mail to request applications, while others will provide telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. Note the application deadline for each scholarship. Be sure to file scholarship materials appropriately.

Typically, scholarship organizations require the completion of a scholarship application, an essay, letter(s) of recommendation, grade transcripts, and an optional student résumé. Many local and regional scholarship organizations also require an interview in front of selection committee. Plan to give yourself weeks of time to request, assemble, complete and mail applications materials.

WARNING! Beware that national scholarships offered by foundations, corporations, clubs, and organizations are extremely difficult to win. With each scholarship, your application and essay must be absolutely great to have any chance of winning.

Remember, even though there are billions of dollars worth of available scholarships, there are thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of student applicants for each major scholarship . . . so the competition is incredibly tough.

The best source of scholarship and grant money continues to be financial aid from the colleges themselves and from local scholarships (local scholarships are from local businesses, your local Elks Club and Rotary Club, and other organizations).

NOTE: Local scholarships are less competitive and you can receive several of them. Receiving multiple local scholarships can be worth several thousands of dollars.

Scholarship Criteria and Tasks

As you search for scholarships and prepare to apply for them, keep in mind that each scholarship has its own criteria for selecting winners. Student eligibility and winner selection criteria are described in the “Rules” section of each scholarship along with instructions for submitting application materials. Different scholarships have different requirements:

  1. You will have to fill out an application form.
  2. You may be asked to write an essay or complete a project showing your potential.
  3. You may be asked to submit letters of recommendation, grade transcripts, and other documents.
  4. Local and regional scholarships may require an interview with members of the scholarship selection committee. See your counselor about applying for local and regional scholarships.
  5. Scholarship programs usually specify that funds must be used to pay college tuition and housing costs and will only be paid directly to your college or university.
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Criteria for some scholarships include qualifying family income levels that demonstrate students are “in-need” of financial aid.

Winning Scholarship Applications

Winning scholarship applications don’t simple list and discuss a student’s activities and awards, they paint a vivid and impressive portrait of the student applicant.

Judges and Your Applications

The readers (selection committee judges) of winning applications get to know student applicants through descriptions and discussion of their values, interests, opinions and talents. Judges should get to know who the person is (the real you) behind all the accomplishments and extracurricular activities presented on your application.

Winning applications create a vibrant picture of you by weaving together all the parts of the application (the application form, essay, résumé, recommendations, and transcripts) to coordinate what each part of the application is telling readers.

Keep in mind that scholarship judges are looking for the best person to represent their organization (their values and ideals). Strive to have your application clearly demonstrate that you are the best representative.


All parts of the scholarship application should work together to effectively portray the character and personality (or main point) you are trying to communicate about yourself. This main point should be reinforced by the extracurricular activities included in your application, your essay, the letter of recommendation, and other submitted documents. Again, all elements should all work together to bring out your positive character and personality to the scholarship judges to show you are the best person to represent their organization (by winning the scholarship).

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Scholarship Essays

Most scholarship applications require at least one essay. These essays are usually shorter and less difficult to write than college admission essays. Check out Do and Don’t list for Writing Scholarship Essays.

Scholarship essays should be written to let the selection committee get to know WHO you are, to make a lasting impression, and to encourage members of the committee to care about you. Scholarship judges want students who will best represent their organization’s values and ideals. Use the essay to present yourself as the best representative of their organization and a deserving winner of the scholarship.

An excellent scholarship essay will captivate readers and have them get to know the real you; winning essays involve the reader. Winning essays will be original, clearly state why you deserve to win, do not include meaningless information, and successfully conveys a main idea or point.

More importantly, winning essays allow readers to get to know the student who wrote it; readers get to know the student’s character and values, talents and interests. In other words, successful essays paint a vivid “portrait” of the student.

Your essay should present ideas and themes through an effective essay format and should have a clear focus and address the essay question or topic.

Scholarship Scams

Students and parents should be aware that grant and scholarship scams exist.

Warning signs of possible scams include:

  • You are required to pay a fee.
  • There is a statement about a “money-back guarantee” or “guarantees” you will win an award.
  • You are asked to give personal financial information (such as credit card and bank account numbers) to “verify” or “hold” scholarships.
  • You receive notification you won an award for which you didn’t apply.
  • There is no valid contract information provided.
  • There are claims that the scholarship organization has a unique database.
  • There are statements that the scholarship organization, “will do all the work.”

Legitimate scholarships will:

  • Send information about scholarships when you request it.
  • Provide contract information upon request.
  • Does not guarantee you will win the award.
  • Will not direct you to make a payment.
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Searching for Scholarships with Automatic Notifications

Below are links to recommended search engines for national scholarships:

1. Go to Fastweb:

  • Type in your e-mail address and create a password.
  • Complete the multiple choice questions regarding your accomplishments and interests. A list of scholarships you are eligible to apply to will be provided along with internet links to detailed information about each scholarship. In the future, as scholarship application deadlines become due, you will receive e-mail notifications from Fastweb letting you know the deadline for submitting each application.

2. Go to CollegeBoard:

  • Click on “Start” (small letters) in the page center to begin your scholarship search.
  • Fill all required details to complete your scholarship search

Don’t Apply to Every Scholarship

Sometimes parents encourage students to apply to all available scholarships to increase the chances of winning scholarship money. This cannot be done effectively.

Each scholarship application will take 1-to-2 weeks to complete primarily because application essays take longer than anticipated.

Taking an “apply to everything” approach places tremendous pressure on students and they will rush to complete applications and essays.

In the end, the quality of scholarship applications may not be high enough to win the award.

During the year, senior students have many responsibilities including earning top grades, completing college applications and essays, continuing volunteer and community service, working part-time, etc. Students pushed too hard may complete low quality scholarship applications, which is a waste of time for everyone.

Focus on “Matching” Scholarships

You should focus on scholarships where your qualifications match well with the scholarship guidelines and intent of the scholarship sponsors.

If your qualifications and experience match so well with the guidelines and intent of the scholarship, then you should have a good chance of winning the award.