When looking for college scholarship dollars, there are a lot of sources that jump to mind: online searches, your high school counselor, and your employer, for starters. But one place you might not think of at first could pay off: your church, synagogue, or mosque. From small stipends to multi-thousand-dollar awards, religious organizations throughout the nation are a good potential source of college funding.
As with most scholarships, your best bet is to start local. Find out if your own place of worship has any direct scholarship opportunities, or if it partners with other local organizations to award scholarships. These can be excellent opportunities, and they're found across the nation.
[See why college scholarships are essential.]
In Indianapolis, for example, the Shiloh Baptist Church partners with the local Oasis of Hope Dollars for Scholars chapter, and awards $1,000 and $2,000 scholarships to members of the congregation pursuing higher education. In Portland, Ore., the Muslim Educational Trust awards the annual Dr. Riyaz Ahmed scholarship to a student from one of several affiliated mosques. And in Western New York, the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies funds a number of scholarships for local Jewish students.
These are just a handful of thousands of local church-based programs, so be sure to check in your community. In addition to these local awards, you should also consult with church education leaders to find out whether your synod or conference offers regional or national financial aid. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America partners with 26 different colleges across the country, offering a variety of financial aid packages to students from affiliated churches.
[Learn some financial aid basics.]
And the United Methodist Church's Leadership Development Grants and World Communion Scholarships provide funding for students from outside the United States and students of color within the United States who are pursuing a future career helping those in need. (The Leadership Grant is for undergrads; the World Communion program is for grad students.)
There are also national organizational partnerships to consider. Scouting offers plenty of scholarship opportunities on its own, and Eagle Scouts can also take advantage of some church-based offerings. Catholic Eagle Scouts are eligible to apply for one of five $2,000 Emmett J. Doerr Memorial Distinguished Scout Scholarships; Eastern Orthodox Eagle Scouts (and Girl Scouts who've earned the Gold Award) can win one of three merit awards annually; and Jewish Eagle Scouts are eligible for several awards, including the $1,000 renewable Charles M. Vernon Memorial.
Jewish students can also find a wealth of opportunities collected by Hillel, the nationwide organization for Jewish campus life. The listing includes national and regional scholarships for Jewish students, as well as its own Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative.
[Read more about finding the right school for you.]
And Muslim students can also take advantage of an excellent national opportunity right now: the Islamic Scholarship Fund just opened its application period for the year; apply before March 21 for these awards, which range up to $10,000. (See this video to learn more.)
Finally, if you're a Protestant Christian interested in a career in the church, there are a few opportunities. The Bivins Foundation provides renewable scholarships of up to $3,500 for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students pursuing a bachelor's or master's degree "in a field that prepares the student to preach the Christian religion." And among the long list of scholarships organized by Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology is the Ed E. and Gladys Hurley Foundation award, which provides $1,000 to students at Texas colleges studying to become missionaries, ministers, or religious workers.
[Find out your net price of college.]
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.