Find Scholarships in Your Own Backyard

Doing some extra digging for scholarships in your community will pay off if you're selected.

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Launching your scholarship search via Google can be quite daunting—you'll end up with thousands of results, and most of them will be completely irrelevant to you. Last week, we shared with you some great online scholarship search engines that are extremely comprehensive but also allow you to focus your search on relevant awards. But there's another place to search for scholarship money that even these targeted search engines can miss—your own backyard.

This process will take a little more work than typing in a few search terms, but doing some extra digging for scholarships in your community will pay off if you're selected as a recipient. Plus, you'll feel extra warm and fuzzy receiving scholarship money from members of your own community who support your dream of achieving a college degree.

There are several ways to find out which organizations or businesses in your area are awarding scholarships to local students; a few places to start are your local newspaper, community foundation, or Dollars for Scholars® chapter. But there are additional methods that can help you get ahead of everyone else when it comes to finding local scholarships.

[Read the 4 do's and 1 don't for finding scholarships.]

1. Check your guidance office: If businesses are smart, the first place they'll advertise their scholarship opportunities is the place where students get the most comprehensive information about postsecondary education—from the helpful counselors in the high school guidance office or career center.

If you've never set foot in your school's guidance office, now is the perfect time to do so. Guidance counselors not only can offer great advice on finding the perfect college for you, but they're also extremely knowledgeable about the financial aid process and are often the first to know about available scholarships in your community. You may not even have to make an appointment to see a counselor—many guidance counselor offices display a bulletin board dedicated to open scholarships in your community.

[Is searching for a "perfect fit" college a big mistake?]

2. Ask your employer or talk to your parents: Many businesses have scholarship and other financial assistance opportunities open to their employees and children of their employees. If you have a job working for a mid- to large-sized company, ask your supervisor if the company offers tuition reimbursement or scholarships for employees.

Sometimes larger companies will contribute even more to your education if you continue to work for them and if they feel your future degree will benefit the company. And if your employer doesn't offer tuition reimbursement or scholarship programs, ask your parents to look into possible scholarship opportunities through their employer.

[Learn how to get your company to pay for college.]

3. Contact state or local agencies: Nearly every state offers scholarships that are specifically intended for residents. Many times they're limited to those attending public colleges or universities, or they're open to students interested in careers in public service or government. You may also find scholarships available to minorities, low-income families, nontraditional students, and students seeking careers in high-demand fields. Visit CollegeScholarships.org to search for scholarships specific to your state.

4. Give them a ring: Use the old-fashioned way of contacting businesses or organizations: call them up! Start by contacting the larger businesses in your area and asking them if they have a scholarship program that is open to area high school students. This information may also be on their websites, so you may want to check there first.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.