How to Find and Secure Scholarships for College

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Monica Matthews, a mother of three, developed strategies to help her children learn how to find scholarships and ultimately win more than $100,000 for college.

Her eldest son, who attended the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor for a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering, won so many scholarships that he graduated debt-free, she says. Encouraged by other parents, the Michigan mom authored an e-book, “How to Win College Scholarships.”

Some of her top recommendations: Start the process early, apply to many scholarships and follow all the instructions.

Winning scholarships, experts say, can help close the gap between college savings and educational expenses. With some planning, it’s possible to increase a student’s odds of nabbing scholarship money, which can lower college costs. Here are a few responses to common questions to help guide students through the college scholarship application process.

What’s the Difference Between Grants and Scholarships?

Grants and scholarships share a common trait – both are “gift aid.” This is money that doesn’t need to be repaid.

Grants are typically awarded on the basis of financial need, such as the federal Pell Grant for low-income students. Need-based grants are awarded at the federalstate or college level.

Scholarships, however, are usually awarded on the basis of merit, whether it’s for academics, athletic ability or a specific talent.

While some private scholarships also consider financial need, such as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s college scholarship program, there’s usually a merit component. Private scholarships are typically awarded by private foundations, nonprofits, for-profit corporations or philanthropists.

How Do I Find Scholarships for College?

Students should start their search with local scholarships, since these awards are often less competitive, experts say. But it’s still important to sign up for a few national scholarship database websites.

Different types of national scholarships are listed on database search websites, including,, and U.S. News Scholarship Finder.

“Every dollar counts, whether it’s for $1,000 or $10,000,” says Connor Peoples, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae, a consumer banking company that offers student loans. “That’s just money that you’re not going to have to pay back after graduation.”

While many high school students apply for college scholarships during their senior year, experts say they can begin their search and the application process much earlier.

“New scholarship databases allow for students to begin researching and finding scholarships as early as freshman year by completing a student profile that should be updated each year with new information,” says Lindsay Muzzy, a financial aid consultant at My College Planning Team, an educational consulting firm.

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