When it comes to paying for college, scholarships and grants can be a big help. Loans come with the stress of interest rates, and work-study can only cover so much. Because scholarships are so valuable though, there’s also fierce competition for them. That’s why looking beyond the standard college scholarships searches can be so valuable... literally.
In order to think outside of the box to find unique and lucrative scholarships, it’s important to first look inside the box. How do students normally find college scholarships?
- Through a financial aid office
- Online college scholarship searches
- A high school counselor
- Educational organizations
While these all can be excellent means to find scholarships, the opportunities listed through these channels will be fiercely contested.
Thinking Outside of the Box
Now that we have a sense of what it means to be in the box, let’s consider ways to look outside of it. Remember that scholarships, just like colleges, are a two-way street. In other words, scholarships need to be the right match for you in the same way you need to be the right match for the scholarship.
You’ll primarily want to consider your unique strengths, skills, and interests. It’s important you do not limit these to what you plan on studying in college or what classes you have the highest grades in (although it’s important to consider these too). Go beyond this—what extracurricular activities or classes do you participate in and enjoy? What local organizations are you involved in? What cultural or economic groups do you consider yourself a part of? What products do you like and use in your everyday life? What do you hope to do beyond college, or what is the overall vision for your professional life? As you’ll soon see, the answer to these questions can lead you to brand new ways for finding scholarships.
Opening Up a World of Options
Once you’ve considered your unique strengths and interests, consider these options for where to find unique and lucrative scholarships.
While it may seem as if corporations are all about making money, there are many major companies out there who also give money, and lots of it. Here’s a list of a few:
Not only do these companies offer hefty scholarships to students entering college, some of them offer scholarships to students who fit a certain demographic, have interest in working in their corporation’s field, or even if they’re simply the child of an employee. So if you have strong interest in a product or working with a kind of product, look for companies that relate to said product for scholarships. Furthermore, if your parents work for a corporation, see what financial benefits you may be able to receive from their place of employment.
Local organizations may not have as much money as large corporations or scholarship programs, but the applicant pool is often much smaller. Therefore, your odds of winning a scholarship increase. Consider local organizations you’ve had some involvement in or interest in. Have you volunteered with a local animal shelter, religious organization, or community program? What organizations base themselves around your unique interests? Any one of these places may have a scholarship opportunity you’ll want to learn more about.
Similarly, if there’s a national organization you’re interested in, look to see if local chapters of said organization offer a scholarship. You’ll have a better chance of winning with a local chapter, and that can help your odds with a larger scholarship down the road.
Non-college based scholarships or competitions
So often when looking for financial help, students get stuck on the word “college.” There are many opportunities out there that are not college based at all, and as a result, may come with fewer strings attached. If you’re interested in a creative pursuit like writing or music, for example, there are numerous competitions, scholarships, and grants out there for such talents. While this may increase the competition pool, looking for opportunities in your age bracket or in a niche field can keep it narrow. The best way to find opportunities like these, besides looking through related organizations and publications, would be to ask your teachers. They often can get you started in the right direction.
- For example, this scholarship offered by the company Porch supports students looking to pursue a trade-based career. Porch focuses on home management for customers. Their scholarship explanation asks for applicants pursing a field that "enables you or others in your community to learn a new trade, develop skills and technology, or start a small business related to home services offered by Porch."
While paying for college can seem like a daunting task, there are many people and organizations out there that want to help. Whether you go for big money scholarships or numerous small scholarships that add up, the key to finding the right funding for you is to consider your unique skills and to get creative.
And one final thought - while it’s ideal to have the money for school before you enter, remember that many of these scholarships are still available while you’re in school, and some even after you graduate. If you’re able to stay focused in school, on scholarships, and in your career, you’ll go far.