How to start your scholarship search

Our experts answer your most pressing questions about finding scholarships

How to start your scholarship search

Are you intimidated by the thought of finding scholarships to pay for your education? The process may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but when you learn a few basics about the hunt, target the scholarships that you are eligible for and be persistent, the rewards for all your efforts can pay off in a huge way.

Our scholarship experts:

Marianne Ragins, lecturer and author of Winning Scholarships for College: An Insider’s Guide and Making the Most of Your College Education was awarded an amazing $400,000 in scholarship money her senior year of high school. She put that and other free aid towards her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Brooke Brandon, a student at Texas A&M University; a youth ambassador to Germany, Italy and Japan; and high school president of Fort Worth Youth International was awarded 27 college scholarships totaling more than $140,000! Brooke won the Coca-Cola scholarship, was national winner of Mervyn’s Community Scholarship, national winner of Daughter of the American Revolution Good Citizen…and her list goes on.

You can do the same thing Ragins and Brooke did. Here are some tips to get you started.

When do I start looking?

You can start your preliminary scholarship research anytime. However, if you’re a senior in high school, you should get started immediately.

Ragins suggests starting at the beginning of your senior year. “Many of the larger scholarship programs have early deadlines,” she says.

Brooke started collecting names of scholarships and award programs during her freshman year. “I finalized my list of what scholarships I wanted to pursue during the spring of my junior year,” she says. “I applied to 53 scholarships/awards and was a scholarship winner of 30 contests.”

Where do I find them?

Resources for finding scholarships are abundant. Ragins says books, the Internet and local companies can provide you info about what’s available. Check out books such as College Financial Aid for Dummies; directories such as The Scholarship Book or Scholarships, Grants & Prizes from Peterson’s, do searches on the Internet (we like and, and contact organizations in your area to find out if they have scholarship money to offer.

How much is enough?

After doing your initial research to see what kind of scholarships are out there, you’ll see that the reward amounts are varied. Should you concentrate on scholarships that offer substantial amounts, or is it effective to apply for the small ones, too?

Ragins has found that because scholarships are never guaranteed, you should apply for each scholarship you are eligible for regardless of its amount.

Even though they may seem insignificant at the time, don‘t overlook local scholarships. They might prove to be less competitive than large national awards.

“Larger, national scholarships have thousands of students competing for them,” Ragins says. “Smaller local scholarships may have less than a dozen and are sometimes begging students to apply.”

How can I organize my search?

Getting organized in the scholarship search is all about deadlines. If you miss an application deadline, you may have to wait for another year to apply. Ragins says a systematic approach to the hunt is the way to go.

“If they’re organized and don’t have to reinvent the wheel to apply for each scholarship, it can be very effective to apply for small as well as large scholarships,” she says.

Keep a binder just for your scholarship info, and keep deadlines on the calendar you access every day.

Will I have to write another essay?

Most scholarship applications will require an essay. This is just one of those things you’re going to have to get used to. But it doesn’t have to be as big a hassle as you think.

“Before beginning to apply for scholarships, write two basic essays,” Ragins says. “One can be about future career goals and another describing yourself. You can use parts and pieces of these essays for most of the applications, eliminating the need for a completely new essay each time you apply.”

When writing scholarship essays, highlight your community involvement to help yourself stand out from the crowd.

Your hard work will pay off!

All that hard work researching, getting and staying organized and writing those darn essays may seem like too much work, but Brooke says every minute of her scholarship search was worth it.

“The opportunities that came my way were overwhelming,” Brooke says. “Coca-Cola sent me to the Scholars Weekend in Atlanta with 250 scholars from around the U.S. The William Randolph Hearst Foundation sent me on a weeklong internship to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Senate (for) a hands-on learning experience.”

The rewards that come from winning scholarships can provide you with money for your education—as well as trips, life-changing experiences and new friends!

Go hunting

Now that you’ve got the scoop on scholarships, you’re ready to start your own search! Start right here at or go to these sites for more options:

- is a free scholarship search engine. You can fill out a profile and it will choose only those scholarships for which you are eligible. Saves tons of time and effort.

- offers information on how to attend a scholarship workshop. Also has a helpful college cost estimator.

- offers info on scholarships that reward community involvement. They offer a guide listing tons of scholarships.


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