Updated January 13, 2016
A common misconception is that scholarships are only for seniors, top students, and those from poor families. In fact, scholarships and competitions exist for all types and ages of high school student, but finding them takes some systematic research. This is an ideal task for parents, who often have more motivation and time than their teens.
Where do you begin? Search engines, articles, websites and books on the topic abound; the challenge is navigating through them without having to give up your day job. To help you, I’ve highlighted some resources I’ve found to be useful. I’ve also outlined a step-wise approach that involves first casting a wide geographic net and then narrowing your focus.
Finding national scholarships
Start with an online search engine that contains a large national database of scholarship opportunities. I like the College Board Scholarship search engine because it is easy to use and does not require you to register. It asks the user a number of questions and then narrows the search to applicable scholarships.
A second broad source of scholarship information can be found on FinAid, a website whose Scholarship page has lots of information about paying for college along with lists of particular categories of awards, such as those for community service and for average students. There's even a category for unusual scholarships, like the Make it With Wool Scholarship in which contestants compete by making a wool garment. Finally, Finaid is linked to FastWeb, a scholarship search engine that is also free but requires users to register.
A third source of wide-ranging information on competitions and scholarships for students of all ages is the book, The Best Competitions for Talented Kids, by Frances A. Karnes and Tracy L. Riley (available on Amazon). It provides detailed information on competitions in the areas of academics, fine and performing arts, leadership, and service learning. For each competition, details are provided on eligibility, dates, awards, advice, and more.
Investigate State Programs
Many states have scholarships for their residents. For example, in Virginia, the 2015-16 Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) will provide up to $3100 per year to Virginia residents who were full-time undergraduate students at participating Virginia private institutions (most are participating). There are also a variety of other scholarship opportunities, like one for child care workers, soil scientists, and nurses. To learn about programs in your state, ask your school counselor for information or do a Google search of “higher education your state.”
This last category of scholarships is often the most rewarding. National competitions may offer large awards, but the competition for a $20,000 national scholarship is likely to be a lot stiffer than for the $1,000 award from a local women’s club. In addition, many local scholarships are quite specific. A subsidy from the town garden center for a local student who wants to study landscape design will not draw hordes of contenders.
To find these local opportunities, consult the guidance office of your high school. Many counselors create and distribute spreadsheets several times a year that list available scholarships along with eligibility rules and information on how and when to apply. And after you’ve looked at the list from your own high school, look for ones posted on the websites of neighboring schools.
Finally, if your child is a freshman or sophomore, capitalize on the time you spend at the end-of-year awards assembly. Rather than mentally compiling your grocery list while waiting to applaud your son’s acceptance into the Audio-Visual Honor Society, pay attention to the description of scholarships won by older students. This is a great way to scope out attainable awards.
In conclusion, there are scholarships out there for all kinds of students. If you’re willing to put in the effort, you just might find some tailor made to your left-handed tuba player.
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