How Parents and Students Can Find College Scholarships

Teamwork could result in more money for college.

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Lan Nguyen studies in the library at St. John's College in Annapolis, Md.
Lan Nguyen studies in the library at St. John's College in Annapolis, Md.

Looking for college scholarships can be confusing and overwhelming. And with college costs on the rise, the competition can be stiff. That's probably why so many families stick to filling out the FAFSA, completing a college's scholarship application, and then calling it a day.

Yet, there are scholarships out there if parents and students know where to look. Here are some places you may not have considered.

JULIE:

Next to choosing an affordable, in-state school, scholarships have made the biggest difference in our effort to put Lindsey through college without student loans. The scholarship area is one where parents and students can work together for maximum gain.

[Get more advice on managing or avoiding student loans.]

Scouting out scholarships is something parents can do to help their overwhelmed or time-crunched students, who will then need to pick it up from there and complete the applications. Here are some of the options I discovered while researching scholarships.

1. Work: As a parent, ask your employer if they offer college scholarships for the children of employees. Many do, especially if it is a large organization. If not, ask if your employer would consider starting one. It may be something they hadn't considered before.

2. School networks: Think about the high school your child is leaving and find out if they offer any scholarship opportunities for their graduating students.

And while your child is probably already planning to fill out the scholarship applications for the college he or she will be attending, check with the alumni organization in your area and see if it offers scholarships. Some will, and if there aren't a lot of students from your area attending that particular college, the applicant pool may be low.

3. Community organizations: Lindsey's high school softball league gives away several $500 scholarships each year to league players who are graduating. The amount isn't large, but the competition is low, and that's $500 that can pay for books, a plane ticket home, or some living expenses.

I ran across this scholarship while registering Lindsey for softball during her high school years, so keep your eyes open for this kind of information. Several smaller scholarships from community organizations will quickly add up to the equivalent of one large award and may be easier to obtain.

4. Religious organizations: Catholic students whose fathers are members of The Knights of Columbus, for example, have scholarship opportunities to available to them. And Hillel.org points Jewish high school and college students toward potential scholarships, too.

Most religious organizations and affiliations will have the same type of options. Start by contacting your church or by searching the Internet for scholarships that come from religious organizations. And if you're a member of organizations like these as a parent, ask around. Our church's Knights of Columbus even offered high school scholarships, and the only application requirement was a short essay. 

[Learn more about finding scholarships through a religious organization.] 

LINDSEY:

When I was beginning to apply for scholarships in high school, our college counselor gave me some great advice: For every 10 scholarships for which you apply, you may only receive one or two, so apply for as many as possible.

This is a great concept, but finding scholarships that were a good fit for me turned out to be much easier said than done. Here are some of the lesser-known resources I tapped into during my scholarship search.

1. Field of study: I knew I'd be majoring in journalism in college, so I applied for one of the freshman journalism scholarships the University of Kansas gives out each year. I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, but I didn't have much other journalism experience and didn't expect to get a scholarship. Much to my surprise, one of my friends and I both received scholarships and were invited to the university's scholarship ceremony as high school seniors.

The pool for major-specific scholarships at your university of choice may not be very large, especially since most students coming into college haven't decided on a major. You may get some extra scholarship dollars just by proving that you are deserving and passionate about your course of study.

2. Campus organizations: Even current college students can find new scholarships. Many on-campus organizations offer scholarships to their most dedicated members.

At KU, I had the opportunity to apply for scholarships through my sorority, the study abroad program, and the campus event planning group. If you're looking for some extra scholarship money, try seeking out organizations that offer scholarships. Make sure you excel within these organizations to increase your chances of receiving a scholarship.

[Get more tips on searching for college scholarships.]