College Scholarship Guide: Determining Available Scholarships in 2020-2021

 In Financial Aid Forms, Scholarships

The mythical college scholarship.

Many words have been written on the topic. I’ll provide my experience with a few action steps for incoming college students.

In general, I group scholarships into three buckets:

  • Institutional scholarships (scholarships provided by colleges)
  • Community scholarships (scholarships from local places the student/family is involved)
  • Scholarship databases (scholarships students can find online using databases and other tools)

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Institutional Scholarships

In my experience, a large majority of scholarship funds that students receive come from the college they ultimately attend. The good news is that students qualify for most of these scholarships by simply applying to the school and, in some cases, completing the school’s financial aid requirements.

With these scholarships, schools will generally let students know if they qualify for them at the same time the school lets the student know if they are admitted. However, some students are awarded institutional scholarships at a later time as funds become available (ie, other students that were initially awarded a scholarship turn down the school to go elsewhere, freeing up money for other students).

Given the nature of institutional scholarships, I advise families to focus on their admissions applications and meeting financial aid deadlines as these are the forms schools use to evaluate and consider recipients of institutional scholarships.

While a majority of these institutional scholarships are applied for simply by completing your admissions and financial aid applications, some schools do have separate requirements for their scholarships. For this reason, I recommend families research scholarships provided by the schools they are considering. This may sound like an arduous process, but all it usually takes is a quick Google search for “University Name Scholarships.” For example, search ‘University of North Carolina scholarships,’ and the first result takes you to a page with information on the school’s scholarships and how to apply.

If you still feel like this process is too confusing or that you don’t have the time for it, Financial Aid Coach will complete this process for you. Email to discuss more.

In general, your institutional scholarships are going to be those that are more significant financially and also those that cover a four-year period, based on certain GPA and credit requirements. For this reason, I advise families to make sure they have exhausted their resources looking into institutional scholarships before they venture into the next buckets.

Community Scholarships

I consider community scholarships anything where the student or family is involved. This can include, but isn’t limited to:

  • Employers
  • Places of worship
  • Veteran organizations
  • Sports clubs
  • Etc.

Basically, the goal here is for the student to be more than just a number which increases their opportunity for scholarships.

It’s not uncommon for high schools to have community awards set aside for their senior class. It’s good practice to check with the school guidance counselor to see if there are any requirements for consideration beyond attending the school. These award ceremonies tend to take place in the spring of senior year around the time that families are committing to a college.

The benefit of these scholarships compared to the third bucket we’ll soon discuss is that the student’s chances are higher to receive community scholarships since they aren’t likely competing with as many others for consideration. Sometimes, smaller local scholarships are actively looking for good candidates, essentially waiting for students to find them so they can award the students money. This does take time and effort to research, but start with those places where your family is involved and go from there.

Scholarship Databases

I always preface the third bucket by saying that students and families are awarded a lot of money via internet scholarships. This is similar to the fact that you know people win the lottery. They talk about it on TV! But that doesn’t mean YOU have won or will win the lottery.

There are many scholarship databases and services available online that match students with scholarships they qualify for. The issue with these scholarships is that they a) take at least some time and effort to research and b) take at least some time and effort to apply to. Once a student has identified a scholarship they qualify for they will usually have to submit a specific application, potentially even an essay, in order to be considered. And they are usually being considered against A LOT of other applicants.

I advise families that these scholarship lotteries come down to a determination of best use of time. Yes, money can be made from these online applications. However, you need to factor in the amount of time they require in addition to your already-busy schedule. And, while the two buckets above may not be as exciting as scholarship lotteries, they are more likely to provide a student with a scholarship. For this reason, before families look into scholarship databases and other online resources for scholarship matching, I advise that they first exhaust institutional and community scholarships.

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