Scholarships can be a great way to fund a college education, but a lot of students compete for few awards and most students are not selected for financial assistance. Once you have a list of scholarships you are eligible for, how should you decide which ones are worth the time to apply for?
Lists of scholarships that match a student’s individual eligibility can be obtained for free online from sources such as Fastweb, Scholarship Experts, and Scholarships.com. Once you or your favorite student fills out some personal profile information, the websites will show all of the scholarships in their database that the student qualifies for. However, not all scholarship programs are created equally, and your chances of winning are directly related to how many other people are eligible for that award. It is also worthwhile to consider how much time it takes to apply.
Contests are generally open to all students regardless of major, activities, or even GPA. These are probably the worst odds of all, because tens of thousands of other students are likely to apply and winners may be selected randomly. Contests like this are often part of a corporate advertising promotion, so unless you can register in under five minutes or so, just skip it. Even if you can apply quickly, be careful of ending up on commercial mailing lists or being pressured into buying something. You don’t need to spend money to get money for college! That completely defeats the purpose.
Institutional scholarships are better, but they are still open to everyone at the particular school or everyone majoring in a certain subject at that school. If the scholarship requires a specific major, a better than average GPA, or certain hobbies or skills, fewer students will be applying and your odds of being selected are greatly increased.
The best scholarships to apply for are local or based on group memberships or company specific employment. Professional societies and community charities often offer generous financial aid, but they are the most selective about who is allowed to apply. If the student’s parents work for a company with family tuition benefits or employee scholarship programs, this is another good source of low-competition college money. These restrictive eligibility awards offer the best odds, and even if they require complicated applications they are worth the time. If the application is too involved, it may discourage other students from applying, and increase your chances yet again.
Avoid the national programs with raffle-style awards and focus on the local and career-specific scholarships you find. It is better to apply for a few lower-competition programs than it is to sign up for the first ones you find.