One of the most crucial questions for any scholarship seeker is also one of the most basic: "Where do I start?" As with many queries in the scholarship world, there are different answers for different students; the options below provide a few ways to get through "applicant's block" and start finding scholarships that fit your unique circumstances.
• Search engines: If you're anything like me, "I need information" is almost always mentally followed by "I'll Google it." If that's the case, a good search engine is your best place to start.
You can get more specific than Google, too; there are a ton of scholarship search engines out there, including the very thorough online databases at Fastweb, CollegeNet, and the College Board. We previously looked in-depth at five major search engines, so find the one that fits your style and personality and start looking. (And remember that you should never have to pay to set up a profile or conduct searches.)
[Don't fall for these scholarship scams.]
• Resource sites: Scholarship search engines are great for finding scholarships by location, field of study, and focus; if you're more of a browser, or if you're looking for a big-picture view of scholarships and other financial aid, you may want to bookmark a handful of sites that provide overviews, timelines, and resources.
The federal government's StudentAid.gov site is essential reading for every student and parent. GetSchooled.com, Unigo, and Zinch provide great expert and peer advice on scholarships and more. And if you're a student from outside the United States, don't miss EducationUSA.info, which has a ton of essential information for international students.
[Learn more about studying in the United States.]
• Social media: Social sites have become increasingly indispensable resources for scholarship seekers, and it's easy to incorporate your search into your daily routine. Our lists of essential Twitter follows are great places to start, and you should also keep an eye on social media posts from schools, companies, and nonprofit organizations that fit with your interests.
Not only do these groups post scholarship opportunities (like Dr Pepper's Tuition Giveaway on Facebook), but you'll also be able to keep up on the issues and topics they're covering, making you a more knowledgeable applicant. And, of course, The Scholarship Coach and the other blogs in the U.S. News Education network are a great way to stay informed!
• Schools: Wherever you are on your educational path, no place wants to see you succeed more than your current and future schools—and that makes them perfect resources to turn to for answers to your scholarship questions.
Your high school guidance office, your college admissions representative, and your undergrad or graduate adviser can all point you in the right direction; their experience can help you prioritize your applications as well.
Outside office hours, you can get online help from your school's own website. My alma mater, the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, features dedicated scholarship-related Web pages for prospective students and current undergrads, and yours probably does, too.
[See which colleges offer merit aid to the most students.]
• Community: As we've mentioned before, even the best Web searches and the most thorough advisers can't find every scholarship, so it can be lucrative to do a little extra leg work in your own backyard.
Professional organizations and community groups—including Rotary and Elks groups, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Dollars for Scholars, and churches—are reliable providers of awards to local students, but you may have to attend an event to learn about the scholarship, or pick up an application in person.
In addition, don't forget to have your parents and other family members check with their employers (and check with your own, if you have a job). Thousands of workplaces offer employee or children-of-employee scholarships as a way to give back to their communities.
However you start your search, we'd encourage you to take advantage of each of these options at some point. There truly is no single magic trick to finding scholarships, but keeping an eye on all of these areas will help ensure you don't miss a thing.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.