Scholarships for College Students Exist. Here’s How You Can Find Them
By Scholarship America
Updated March 2023
If you’re heading to college next year, there’s a good chance you’re paying at least part of the bill with scholarship aid. According to Sallie Mae, around 73% of college students received at least one scholarship or grant from their college, from a hometown organization or from a national provider.
But if you’re returning to college as a sophomore, an upperclassman or a graduate student, that scholarship aid is probably diminished from what it was freshman year—very often, scholarships that you receive from your high school and hometown are one-year-only awards, and that can leave you financially stranded as you work to pay for your subsequent years.
Fortunately, the scholarship search doesn’t end just because you’re beyond freshman year. Here’s our guide to finding and earning scholarships when you’re already in college.
College presents a slew of new activities, and those experiences are full of opportunities for you to search out scholarships for college students.
Getting involved in campus activities connects you with older students and faculty mentors that can help guide you toward financial aid. Standing out as a leader in your activity—whether it’s theater, marching band, Quiz Bowl or Ultimate—will boost your chances at scholarships. And organizations like the National Association for Campus Activities even offer scholarships specifically for those who dedicate themselves to extracurriculars on campus.
Not into organized activities? You can still benefit from getting involved. If you’re part of the Greek system, your fraternity or sorority is likely to have national and chapter-specific scholarships. Campus and community groups often provide scholarship awards for exceptional volunteers and student entrepreneurs—and Scholarship America’s Dream Award is designed specifically for students who have overcome obstacles, finished their freshman year of college and face financial struggles.
(If you’re not on a campus, there are scholarships out there for students attending college online, too!)
Connect with your family
Your heading off to college will have a big effect on your own finances and your family’s. As you think about future years, make sure you and your family are on the same page: how much will they contribute to your tuition and fees? If family contributions aren’t possible, how much of the tuition will you need to cover each year? Answers to questions like these will help clarify family financial expectations, especially in conjunction with your annual FAFSA—a must to fill out every year you’re in college. And having these conversations early and frequently during your college career will help you know what to expect.
Balance your academics and activities
You’ll want to carve out time to search for scholarships, but it’s hard to make that happen when there’s a 100-page reading assignment looming the next day. As mentioned above, being involved in campus activities could present a variety of scholarship opportunities. But if you’re struggling with balancing activities and classes, there are a number of scholarship opportunities right on campus to take advantage of; a visit to the financial aid office (or their website) can include obtaining a list of university-wide scholarships, and introducing yourself to department heads demonstrates initiative and interest in major-specific awards.
Juggling coursework and the scholarship search don’t have to be at odds with each other—of course you’ll have to hit the books, but that dedication could also lead to more scholarship dollars.
Become a student of the financial aid process
Financial aid requirements change over the years, and FinAid estimates that tuition increases about 8% per year. The more that you know about financial aid, the less likely you are to be caught by surprise. For instance, lots of college students don’t realize that the FAFSA is an annual requirement that needs to be filled out, usually starting October 1—and that you’ll need financial input from your parents as long as you’re still considered a dependent.
Your parents and mentors can also help you navigate the process. Parent sections of college websites like StudentAid.gov and BigFuture include lots of helpful information, as do groups like College Parents of America and parent associations on campus.
The struggle to pay for college is real, and it doesn’t end just because you’ve made it campus. But the same skills that got you into college—persistence, determination, hard work and going the extra mile in your search—can help you find and win scholarships while you’re on campus.