If you are heading to college, but wondering how to pay for it, you have most likely considered applying for a scholarship. Unlike loans, scholarships are gifts that do not need to be repaid. And, there are many, many scholarships out there that you can apply to – scholarships offered by schools, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and professional and social organizations.

Where do I find scholarships?

Here are a few ways to find scholarship opportunities:

  • Register online for scholarship searches: Many scholarship websites offer free online tools and access to millions of scholarships with money to award prospective students. With a little research, you can find scholarships that match your interests and skills.
  • Talk to your school counselor or other teachers: Discuss your plans for college with your school counselor and ask about scholarship opportunities that might be right for you. Teachers, counselors, or other advocates who know you well may also know of an opportunity that is a good fit for you.
  • Highlight your hobbies – Although you may not initially think of your interests as a way to help pay for school, they could be the unique thing that makes you stand out. There are college scholarships out there for everyone: crafters, gamers, vegans, green thumbs, Trekkies—you name it. Scholarships aren’t just based on academics or athletics.
  • Scholarships for minority students – if you are a minority student, there are many scholarship opportunities available that can help you pay for school. Research available scholarships that may be a match for your background

How do I apply?

Each scholarship has its own requirements, so you should definitely consult the scholarship website to get an idea of who qualifies for the scholarship and how to apply. Make sure you read the application carefully, fill it out completely, and pay attention to application deadlines

When you’re ready to start applying, it’s important to get organized. Many scholarship applications require an essay or writing sample. Start working on those essays early, and ask teachers or peers to review them for you and provide feedback. Scholarship applications can require some time, but once you’ve completed one, you may be able to use the same essays or samples for future applications.

Here are a few additional tips as you apply for scholarships:

  • You shouldn’t have to pay for scholarships or for scholarship searches.
  • Don’t exaggerate your grades, experience, skills, or qualifications. You’re more likely to receive scholarships if you apply for the ones that match your interests and skills.
  • Apply for scholarships every year you’re in college. Approximately 50 percent of available scholarships are for students already enrolled in college.
  • Pay attention to details and follow instructions carefully. Complete all that is requested and proofread everything. Typos and missing materials can be the difference between winning or losing a scholarship.
  • Meet all deadlines. If the scholarship application can’t be submitted electronically, use certified mail. Missing a deadline could disqualify you.

When do I apply?

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to start your research early. Some scholarship deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so if you’re in high school now, you should be researching and applying for scholarships during the summer between your junior and senior years. But if you’ve missed that window, don’t give up! Look at scholarship information to see which ones you can still apply for now.