You can increase your odds of actually winning a scholarship by checking local organizations first. You may only be going up against a few other local students, versus the entire student population of the country.
Have your parents ask their personnel administrator if their company offers any sort of financial aid, tuition reimbursement, or scholarships, for employee's children. If you have a job, ask your own company if they offer this sort of benefit.
If you have done any volunteer work at your local hospital, food bank, etc., these organizations may provide scholarships in recognition for unpaid assistance.
Check foundations, religious organizations, fraternities or sororities, and town or city clubs to see if they offer any kind of scholarship. Include community organizations, and civic groups such as the American Legion, 4-H Clubs, YMCA, Elks, Kiwanis, Jaycees, and the Girl or Boy Scouts in your search. If you are NOT a member of any organizations, the next thing is to check with the organizations that represent what you are planning on studying.
If you or your parents are members of a Union, all the major labor unions offer scholarships for members and their dependent children (AFLCIO, Teamsters, etc.)
Check with your church. Your local parish may or may not have any scholarships for their members, but the Diocese or headquarters may have some available.
Your public library is an excellent source of information on state and private sources of aid. Ask the librarian to help you research sources of scholarships. Your financial need is usually considered, but other factors may also be taken into account.
Chamber of Commerce
Check with your local Chamber of Commerce. Many offer (usually small, less than $500) grants to students in the community, especially those planning on careers in business or Public Service. Even if they do not offer any themselves, you can usually get a listing of members, and many of them may offer small scholarships to local students.
Check with your High School Guidance Counselor, Principal, Teachers, and other high school administrators on scholarship information that has been sent to the school.
The Chairperson or Head of the Department at your college
Once you are in college, check with the head of the department of your major. They may have information available on scholarships and grants, and internship opportunities.
Read your local newspaper every day. Especially during the summer, watch for announcements of local students receiving scholarships. Find out where you can apply for the next year for that same scholarship. Watch also for actual announcements of local firms and organizations offering scholarships. If your local newspaper has a "library" (most do) ask the librarian at the paper to help you find scholarship information posted in the newspaper in past issues. Do not expect to find much information from your local newspaper, but it is another source.
Hit the major search engines, and run searches on scholarships, financial aid, organizations, colleges, universities, and grants - anything you can think of. Be wary of any organization or company that charges you a fee for their services, you should never have to pay to apply for a scholarship, if you do it is usually a scam. Please see the next section for information on "Scholarship Scams."
Some deceitful companies will go about swindling dollars by promising students free scholarship money in exchange for an up-front fee. Others claim to have access to untapped sources of financial aid, charging students for information on various scholarship awards. Many parents will receive letters in the mail promoting "free financial aid seminars" or "open interviews" for financial assistance, not knowing that the real purpose of the event is to plug unnecessary products and/or services. When a sales pitch implies that purchasing such a product is a prerequisite to receiving federal student aid, it violates federal regulations and state insurance laws. While some of these profit-making companies do offer legitimate services, there are several alternative routes students can take to acquire a wealth of scholarship information - for FREE. The bottom line: if you have to pay money to get money, it's probably a scam and you're better off looking elsewhere.
The Federal Trade Commission urges students and parents to look out for signs that a college scholarship offer is a scam:
If you or someone you know suspects that a scholarship offer may be a scam, you can report it to the National Fraud Information Center at 1-800-876-7060, the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP, or by email to Finaid.org at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact your State Attorney General's Office, the Better Business Bureau, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (if any part of the transaction was through the mail), U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, or your high school counselor for more assistance.
- "The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back." No one can guarantee students that they'll receive scholarship money. Always look for strings attached. FinAid, an acclaimed web site dedicated to providing students with comprehensive scholarship information, alerts that "some companies will not refund your money, but instead will offer to rerun the search for a specified number of times at no charge." It also has found that numerous organizations define the word "receive" ambiguously - students will receive information about scholarships, not the scholarships themselves."We will need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship." Never give out an account number without getting all the information in writing first.
- "You can't get this information anywhere else." Don't believe a company that claims its search engine is entirely unique. Different scholarship databases overlap significantly since many utilize the same information-gathering techniques. There are several free search services on the Internet where students can enter information about themselves and instantly see a list of valid scholarships for which they may qualify.
- "The scholarship will cost some money."
- "We'll do all the work for you." There are thousands of legitimate scholarship opportunities out there. However, these award donors often require substantial materials from their applicants - essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc. For these applications, you can't hire a company to do the work for you.
- "You've been selected" by a "national foundation" to receive a scholarship or "You're a finalist" in a contest you never entered. Before sending anything, call directory assistance to see if the company has a listing. Find out how the company acquired your information and then be on guard for hidden fees.