Private Scholarships

What if you were admitted to your top three colleges but couldn’t enroll in them because the costs were too high, even with your Federal aid? You’d be forced to decline their offers and accept one from a less desirable college — not the end of the world, but not an ideal outcome either.

If you’re proactive early in your college admissions campaign, you may never face this dilemma. You might be able to fill a funding gap with a scholarship from a college that admits you. Colleges offer scholarships to a select few applicants from their own institutional funds. These offers are based on your application, achievements, personal characteristics, and your family’s FAFSA and CSS Profile information.

Colleges compete for the best applicants. A partial scholarship is a discount in tuition used as a marketing technique to induce you to enroll at a college instead of one of their competitors. You may be tempted, but don’t enroll in the first college that offers you a tuition discount, even if it’s steep one. Wait until you’ve received the results of your other applications, then weigh all factors, not just cost.

You can and should apply for as many non-college private scholarships as practical. If you’re successful, you’ll be less reliant on the colleges to which you’ve applied for funding. College scholarships involve a long wait between application submission and the point when you know if you’ll receive one. They’re frustrating because your role after submission is passive. We advise you to be proactive in identifying and applying for non-college private scholarship, especially ones that reward specific skills in which you excel.

The Private Scholarships That Are Best for You

The money for non-college private scholarships comes from a wide variety of sources. Over $6 billion in private funding is available to undergraduates every year. Most high school students who apply for scholarships do so only during fall semester of senior year, but you should begin sooner. If you start early and approach the challenge energetically, you can greatly improve your chances of being awarded your fair share of the huge sum available.

Initiate your search for private scholarships on the Web. There are free scholarship-finding services such as StudentScholarshipSearch, Cappex, Fastweb, Bigfuture, Unigo, and Collegeboard. These services will identify hundreds of scholarships for which you’re highly qualified from among the thousands that they list, so let them do your filtering. The time you spend creating a detailed profile on at least two of these services will be rewarded by the many scholarships opportunities that they will identify for you.

Types of Private Scholarships

Below are several categories of scholarships. Examples are provided for clarity, but they represent only a small percentage of the full and partial scholarships available.

a. Local Community Groups: Take advantage of scholarships in your community. There are service organizations in most communities in the U.S that seek local applicants for the scholarships that they offer. Applicants are required to live in the area, which keeps the number of competitors relatively low, thereby raising your chances of success. Many public libraries have bulletin boards that post local scholarship opportunities.

The Parent-Teacher Association in your school district and the local Chamber of Commerce probably have programs that award scholarships to local students. Service organizations such as the Lions Club, VFW, Knights of Columbus, Masons, Elks Club, Rotary Club, Community Chest, American Legion, and others are also likely to offer college scholarships to students in your area.

You should identify local businesses that provide scholarships to area students. They are a common way for business owners to provide a benefit to their community while also benefiting from positive publicity.

b. Employers: Many large corporations offer scholarships for the children of employees. If such an opportunity is available to you, you’ll be competing against a relatively small set of peers. If you’re a student with a part-time job, you may qualify for a scholarship competition through your own employer. For example, Starbucks, Target, McDonald’s, Duncan, Walgreen’s, Burger King, and Walmart have scholarship programs for part time employees.

c. Religious Organizations: Your religious affiliation is a potential source of scholarship funding. Check first with your local place of worship to see if it offers scholarships. Then expand your search to include regional and national governing bodies.

d. Extracurricular Activities: Many colleges award scholarships to students whom they have recruited for their talent in a college activity. The talents most often awarded are in sports, debate, performing and visual arts, and music. There are also scholarships for applicants who advance the college’s mission to create a diversified student body.

Scholarships are also available through participation in non-scholastic activities that appeal to young people. Activities with national governing bodies are the most likely sources of scholarships. Scouting is a good example. The Boy Scouts of America offers more than 20 scholarships for Eagle Scouts, the largest being the Mabel & Lawrence S. Cooke Scholarship, which awards $48,000 over four years to one Eagle Scout and $25,000 over four years to four other scouts. Another example is the U.S. Tennis Association, which offers awards such as the $15,000 Marian Wood Baird Scholarship. The U.S. Golf Association, 4-H Club, Girl Scouts, YMCA and many similar organizations offer scholarships.

e. Corporate Competitive Scholarship Programs: Many large corporations offer scholarships that involve competitions in academic areas. About half of them are in the liberal arts, including literature, writing, accounting, international affairs, and history. Highly prestigious scholarship programs focusing on the liberal arts include the National Italian American Foundation and the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants.

The other half of corporate scholarships are in the STEM fields. Large STEM corporations seek new employees trained in their specialized fields, so they underwrite competitions to encourage students to major in them and go on to STEM careers. Google, Intel, Regeneron, Toshiba, and Microsoft are a few of the corporations that conduct annual STEM competitions with scholarships as prizes. Others include the Science Olympiad, International BioGENEius Challenge, Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, American Association of Neuroscience Research Prizes, MIT THINK Scholars Program, Davidson Fellows, and the National Junior Science Symposium.

f. High Schools: There are scholarships available only to students who have been nominated by their high schools. The Morehead-Cain Scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill offers a full merit scholarship to in-state students plus summer enrichment programs. Applicants must undergo a multistep competitive process that begins in the summer before senior year. The Jefferson Scholarship at the University of Virginia requires in-state students who have been nominated by their high school to undergo three rounds of competition to win scholarships for full tuition plus enrichment activities for four years.

g. Sweepstakes: They’re certainly long shots, but the easiest scholarship programs in which to participate are those involving promotional sweepstakes. You simply provide requested information and answers a few qualifying questions to enter. Companies such as Sallie Mae, Cappex, and Niche conduct monthly sweepstakes that provide randomly chosen winners with $500, $1,000, or $2,000 scholarships.

h. Skill Competitions: An appealing example of this category is Essay Writing Contests because only a small percentage of students like to write essays. Some essay competitions have as few as 10 contestants. If you’re a good writer, you should seek them out. If there are other skills at which you excel, you should seek competitions that reward those skills.

i. Personal Characteristics or Circumstances: A good example of this category are scholarships for students who are the first in their family to attend college. Winners of the Questbridge National College Match Program are high achieving, first-generation students from low-income backgrounds. There are a number of philanthropist-funded scholarships for which only students with minority status or challenging life circumstances are eligible. The Gates Scholarship awards only minority students. The Through the Looking Glass Scholarships are awarded to students whose parents have disabilities. Children of disabled American veterans are eligible for scholarship programs such as the Military Commander’s Scholarship Fund.

Tips for Private Scholarship Seekers

Avoid scholarship programs or search services that charge a fee. Applying for a legitimate scholarship is always free. Fee-based services, especially those that guarantee a scholarship, are a scam.

Your pursuit of scholarships need not end when you’re enrolled in college as a freshman. You can continue to seek scholarship funding throughout your college career. There are many single-year awards for which all winners must re-apply and re-compete annually. You can compete on an equal footing with previous winners as a sophomore or upperclassman.

You’ll need to submit an essay, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other documents to apply for many scholarships. This takes time, so begin your effort early to ensure that you submit high-quality applications and supporting documents by the deadlines.