For students whose families cannot afford to pay for college, finding free college scholarships can make the difference between attending a reputable university and taking classes at a community college. Many scholarships are available to students who excel in academics, sports, leadership or other extracurricular activities. However, for most scholarships, you must find and apply for the scholarship to have a chance of receiving it.
Many websites compile lists of scholarships and allow students to sign up at the website to search that list. You can filter your search results by entering your year in school, grade point average, location, ethnic background and academic subject interests to view only the scholarships for which you might qualify. The scholarship search websites provide links to the sponsors' websites so you can apply for these scholarships. Some of the most popular searches are through CollegeBoard, FastWeb and Scholarships.com.
Your high school guidance counselor is a good resource to point high school seniors in the direction of locally-based scholarship programs. Often local companies or donors in the community offer scholarships to help students from the area attend college. Set up an appointment early in your senior year so your guidance counselor can tell you about the programs available in your area and how to apply for these scholarships. You should also have your parents ask their employers if they have any scholarship programs for children of employees.
Institutional scholarships are those awarded by individual colleges and universities to students who attend that school. These scholarships are usually funded by the school's endowment or by private donors, often alumni. The two most common types of scholarships are athletic scholarships and academic scholarships. Contact your school's financial aid office to ask if you have to follow any special procedures to apply for institutional scholarships. Some schools award them based on college applications or sports team recruiters, whereas others allow interested students to fill out applications to compete for the scholarships. If you get an institutional scholarship for your first year of college, ask what you need to do to keep the scholarship for subsequent years. Often, you must maintain a specific grade point average or participate in specific activities in order to keep the scholarship.
Many state and national organizations offer well-known scholarships to some highly qualified students. One simple scholarship is the National Merit Scholarship, which provides students with scholarships of up to $2,500 per year. Students qualify by scoring well on the PSAT or NMSQT and submitting their high school transcripts and a personal essay. Students can receive scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, companies who sponsor National Merit scholarships and schools that offer 4-year renewable National Merit Scholarships. Some states also offer scholarship or grant programs to students who have a specific grade point average and who attended high school and will attend college in the state. This is often a way to try to retain talented young people to study, and ideally work, in the state.