Parents and students often remark that they find scholarships to be elusive. They know they exist. They even know people who have gotten scholarships. But when it comes to meeting their own college costs, they feel that the scholarships they find often have some qualifier that they do not meet.
Many websites and books on college planning refer students to online college search engine websites. They sound like the perfect solution to scholarship search frustration. However, I frequently try them and find that many have limitations. Specifically, they do not appear to have a mechanism that can discriminate enough between their scholarship inventory and visitors to their site to match them well. As a result, students get frustrated when they live in Virginia, but get matched with a scholarship that requires the student to live in South Carolina. Too frequently students give up, and I do not blame them for doing so. They have limited time and must budget it to keep their high school grades up and do other college related tasks.
The solution is to search as a family and begin your search at home and then branch out to other sources. Start in the high school guidance office and review the inventory of scholarships aimed at students in your school or community. You are more likely to be qualified and will compete against a much smaller pool of applicants.
After exhausting resources aimed at students at your school, branch out into your community to see what local businesses and foundations have to offer students. Also apply for national scholarships for which you are competitive. Find them through your own internet search and a combination of methods that can include but does not rely solely on scholarship search engines.
As you look for scholarships, realize that there are at least 60 topical areas to use in directing your scholarship search. They include your major and career plans, where you plan to go to college, parent military and civic participation, your ethnicity and gender, your hobbies and memberships, your church and political affiliations, your accomplishments and the causes that interest you, just to name a few.
The most important thing to remember about scholarships is the same principle you must apply to college admission and financial aid: start early. And remember that scholarships don't just target high school seniors, there are scholarships for students beginning in elementary school. As you find scholarship opportunities, create a spreadsheet of scholarship opportunities in chronological order and follow it.