Experts Reveal 18 Places to Find Scholarship Money for College

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There are plenty of scholarships and grants out there to help you pay for college. In the 2019-2020 year, college students received a total of $242 billion in grant money. The key to finding scholarships and grants for college is to start early and research all opportunities.

While it’s not completely free money for college — you will have to compete for these awards — you will almost never need to repay them, unlike with student loans. Here are 18 sources for scholarships and grants recommended by experts, broken down into the following categories:

Where to find scholarships and grants for college

Although you typically don’t have to pay back grants or scholarships, there are a few unique circumstances where you’d be expected to return the money. In the case of government awards, for example, if you drop out of school or switch to part-time status, then you may need to give back a portion of the funds. As a result, make sure to review any possible repayment contingencies when you receive any of these grants or scholarships.

Government

Uncle Sam is a leading source of grants for college students. Here are some options for government funding to help subsidize your education:

1. Federal grants
2. State grants

1. Federal grant

Every year, students received billions of dollars in federal grant aid to help pay for college.

The Pell Grant program provides need-based grants to students. To qualify for a Pell Grant and other federal financial aid, you’ll need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Other options include:

  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

2. State grant

State grant aid rose 27% in the 2018-2019 school year since the same period in 2011-2012. In 15 states, full-time students received an average of $1,000 or more in state grants.

While not all states offer the same amount of state-based aid, many are working to expand their grant programs. For example, New York’s Excelsior Scholarship program offers eligible students up to $5,500 per year toward college tuition.

If you’re curious about what type of state-based financial aid is available to you, you can get your state education agency’s contact information through the U.S. Department of Education.

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Local

While it’s said that there’s no such thing as free money for college, you may be able to get grants and scholarships locally that you won’t need to repay.

“I recommend students start in their own community, school or family to really get to know themselves, their family history, memberships, involvement and employment so that they have the facts about possible scholarship connections,” said Kim Stezala, known as The Scholarship Lady.

Here are some resources to look at for local scholarship opportunities:

3. Employers
4. Volunteer organizations
5. Churches
6. Labor unions and professional associations

3. Employer

People don’t often apply for local employer-based scholarship programs, said Jolyn Brand, founder of Brand College Consulting. However, they can be a great source of scholarship funds.

To avoid missing out on opportunities, Brand suggested both parents and grandparents ask at work about scholarships for dependents. Students who are working can also take advantage of scholarships through their own employers.

Not only do some employers offer tuition reimbursement, but an increasing number also provide student loan repayment assistance for employees with student debt.

4. Volunteer organization

Brand said to look to volunteer organizations where you may be a member to find scholarship opportunities.

For example, the Peace Corps offers tuition assistance for graduate students at more than 90 participating universities and colleges. AmeriCorps provides the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for members who complete service within a 12-month window. Hundreds of higher education institutions may match the AmeriCorps award, which is worth up to $6,345 in 2020-2021.

5. Churche

Churches are a great scholarship source, said Ronald Ramsdell, founder of College Aid Consulting Services. The United Methodist Church offers financial assistance through more than 40 scholarship programs.

The Episcopal Church offers young students a variety of grants and scholarships of up to $10,000. Likewise, the United Church of Christ offers various grants and scholarships.

6. Labor unions and professional association

The Union Plus Scholarship Program is for students whose spouse or parents is an active or retired member of a union. It has awarded $4.8 million in scholarships since 1991. Students are allowed to reapply each year for additional opportunities.

The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association provides scholarships to union members’ children or grandchildren. Eligible applicants can receive between $3,000 and $12,000 in scholarship funds.

National

While local groups are a great place to find money for college, don’t limit yourself just to your neck of the woods. According to Ramsdell, big banks and large corporations offer scholarships to students across the U.S. Here are some sources of national scholarships:

7. Fortune 500 companies
8. Banks and credit unions
9. Philanthropic institutions
10. Advocacy groups
11. Health organizations

7. Fortune 500 companie

Google, Walmart and Coca-Cola Co. are just a few examples of big businesses that offer college assistance.

Coca-Cola offers multiple scholarships each year to help high-achieving high school seniors pay for college. Each year, the company selects 150 students to receive $20,000 each. Eligible students should have top-tier grades and a knack for leadership.

8. Banks and credit union

Ramsdell also recommended checking with financial institutions. Bank of America, SunTrust and Citigroup are among the major financial institutions offering scholarships.

SunTrust offers a unique opportunity where students can enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win $500 to $1,000 in scholarship money.

Brand said students should also check with credit unions, especially ones their parents may have a relationship with.

9. Philanthropic institution

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 14% of all charitable donations went to support education in 2019. A significant portion of philanthropic funding for education is used for grants and scholarships.

10. Advocacy group

There are myriad advocacy groups offering grant and scholarship opportunities to facilitate enrollments by people with certain demographic traits.

For example, there are scholarships for women, members of the LGBTQ community, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and others. Check to see if there is an advocacy group that can provide help with college funding.

11. Health organization

If you have had health problems, institutions aimed at helping to educate people about your condition could prove to be a source of scholarship funds.

Beyond Type 1, for example, helps students with Type 1 diabetes by providing education scholarship opportunities to help pay for college.

Internet

Look online for sources of money for your college tuition.

“I always encourage students to sign up for two scholarship search engines and fill out a profile,” Stezala said. “While the websites may have nearly the same pool of scholarships in their databases, you may still find different scholarships in each one because they use different methods in the matching process.”

So, where should you look? There’s really just one answer:

12. Online scholarship website

Scholarships.com, Fastweb, BigFuture and MoolahSPOT were among the websites recommended by the experts.

There are many different online tools to find scholarships, but the key is to make sure you’re only looking at legitimate sites.

“Never, never pay a fee under any circumstances,” Ramsdell warned, even if the site offers you a guaranty. Often, families pay these fees and are denied when they try to get their money back under the guaranty because they don’t receive scholarship money.

Military

Military members and their families may be entitled to a variety of scholarships and aid to support their education. For instance:

13. ROTC
14. Veterans
15. Veterans service organizations

13. ROTC

There are a variety of ROTC scholarships available. In addition to ROTC scholarships, active service members can access education funds up to $4,500 to help curb the cost of school.

Students can check them out on the Federal Student Aid office website. ROTC scholarships are available through the Army, Air Force and Navy.

14. Veterans’ program

There are several programs providing educational benefits to veterans. These included the:

  • Post-9/11 GI Bill
  • All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance Program
  • Educational Assistance for Members of the Selected Reserve
  • Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance
  • Post-Vietnam Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program
  • Reserve Educational Assistance Program

15. Veterans service organization

Various organizations that serve veterans offer scholarship funds.

These include the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Skills and academics

If you have special skills or academic prowess, you can often turn your talents into college cash. Here are three broad categories of awards that reward these achievements:

16. College scholarship programs
17. Athletic scholarships
18. College career organizations

16. College scholarship program

Around 35% of scholarships and grants come directly from colleges, according to Cappex.

Stezala recommended Cappex to students looking to maximize the chances of receiving a scholarship from a college.

“They have an admissions calculator that shows you your chance of being admitted to a college,” she said. “It is a good way to see how you rank compared to other students. If you rank highly and apply to that college, the college itself may offer you a scholarship to attend.”

17. Athletic scholarship

More than 180,000 student-athletes attending NCAA Division I and II schools receive over $3.6 billion annually in athletic scholarships, according to the NCAA.

While you must be an elite athlete to obtain one of these scholarships — only around 2% of high school athletes are provided with funding — Brand recommended looking to local sports organizations you are part of to see if they offer any scholarship opportunities.

18. College career organization

If you know which major you’d like to pursue in college, it can be a good idea to join career-related associations and start networking early. By joining a club whose interests are similar to yours, you’ll be able to meet with relevant people in the industry, know what’s going on in the field and major, and be privy to scholarship opportunities that may be available.

If you’re pursuing a degree in communications or public relations, for example, you may consider joining the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The PRSSA awards more than $30,000 annually to students who excel in public relations.

It should be noted that membership in a certain organization is sometimes preferred or required to be eligible.

Pursuing grants for college

All these resources should help you find money for college. The key is to start early and be thorough in your search efforts.

According to Ramsdell, most students who start in their junior year of high school should be able to get at least some money if they exhaust their options for funding.

“It’s like the lottery,” Ramsdell said. “If you don’t play, you’re not going to win.”

To stay motivated, check out these tips from someone who won over $40,000 in scholarship award money.

Rebecca Safier and Sage Singleton Evans contributed to this report

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