College Without Loans: Where to Find Scholarships

by Kelly Kehoe on 24 June 2013 4 comments

We hear a lot of “gloom and doom” reporting about the student loan crisis, but there’s a positive side to paying for college — scholarships. Each year, there are millions of dollars in scholarships available to students, and unlike loans, you don’t need to pay them back. Some scholarships require completed applications, essays, letters of recommendation, high GPAs, athletic ability, or financial need. Other scholarships simply ask you to fill out a form.

Whether you just want some spare cash for books and living expenses or you need to pay for your entire tuition, the following resources can help you on your scholarship quest. (See also: 40+ College Resources for Parents and Students)

Your University’s Financial Aid Office

The first place you should check for available scholarships is the financial aid office at your university. Some scholarships are open to all students (those with academic achievements and/or significant financial need are generally given preference), while other scholarships may be limited to certain majors (among other perquisites). If you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, you may be automatically considered for various scholarships or encouraged to apply for ones based on your financial need.

Local Clubs and Organizations

Other sources of potential scholarships are the clubs and organizations in your area. They might not show up online, but don’t limit your scholarship search to the internet. Instead, scout out potential scholarships from:

  • Local sports or activity-centric clubs you’ve participated in
  • Political groups (in order to qualify for a scholarship, you’ll likely have to be registered with the given political party)
  • A religious organization you may be affiliated with
  • Your (or your parent's) employer
  • Local branches of recognized organizations, such as the Rotary Club

Online Scholarship Websites

There are hundreds of different websites with scholarship databases, but before you feel overwhelmed, start off your search with these popular sites. 

Scholarships.com

One of the easiest to find, easiest to use websites for scholarship searches is Scholarships.com. After taking a couple minutes to fill in the required information (email address, school year, birth date, etc.) plus some general information on your background (athletics, ethnicity, academics, disabilities, etc.), Scholarships.com’s search engine presents you with a list of scholarships you could qualify for based on the information you provided. If you don’t want to register right away, go to the bottom of the homepage to find scholarships based on majors, schools, gender, minority status, “unusual” scholarships, and more. (Note: You have to be a member of Scholarships.com to view the full details for each scholarship.)

In addition to the scholarship search, Scholarships.com offers several informative articles about financial aid and other important aspects of college. For students who haven’t chosen a university yet, the College Matchmaker search tool is also quite useful. 

FastWeb

FastWeb not only offers a comprehensive scholarship search tool, but it also has plenty of information on planning for the financial side of college, getting internships, and applying for jobs. Members of FastWeb (membership is free, by the way) receive personalized scholarship matches based on their personal background, academic history, and extracurricular interests. The site navigational toolbar makes searching for scholarships a breeze, and there are thousands of potential scholarships in its database (which is updated daily).

Note that when you sign up for FastWeb, you may want to opt out of email updates, since they tend to email members frequently.  

Big Future

The College Board is arguably one of the best resources for incoming college students and their scholarship search tool, Big Future, is useful for anyone looking for ways to pay for college. According to the website, Big Future has up to six billion in potential scholarships and other financial aid opportunities listed in its database.

Unlike other scholarship search sites, Big Future doesn’t require users to register in order to see the details for each scholarship. Simply fill out the information and see which scholarships you might want to apply for from the results list. In terms of ease of navigation and access, Big Future’s scholarship finder is one of the best available to students.

Zinch

A subsidiary of the online bookseller Chegg, Zinch has a simple search feature that allows you to find scholarship matches based on your student status, zip code, college location, GPA, and interests. When you input new information, the scholarship selection is automatically filtered and the amount of funds you could qualify for is immediately displayed. Like other scholarship sites, Zinch requires you to register to get the full details of how to apply for scholarships. However, Zinch has a unique bonus for its members — the Chegg for Good program allows Zinch members to double the money they win from their first scholarship found through Zinch (up to $1,000).

Department of Labor Scholarship Search

America’s Career InfoNet has a limited offering compared to its competitors, with approximately 7,000 financial aid opportunities within its scholarship database. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration and allows you to search for financial aid based on award type (scholarship, fellowship, grant, etc.), residency, study level, and affiliation restrictions (ethnicity, disability, etc.). Your search results may include: the funds available for the award, qualifications, number of awards available, and the deadline to apply.

Where else have you found scholarships? Is it worth the time and effort (filling out applications, writing essays) to scout out scholarships? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

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MikeB

Great article. Here is another niche scholarship: our local community college (Community College of Allegheny County) has a full scholarship for students who also serve as volunteer firefighters.

Guest's picture

This post reminds me of my college graduation speech given by one of the distinguished alums. He began his speech in front of an entire graduating class by stating the average student debt per student. I was blown away. Is that really appropriate to say in a college graduation speech? We were all sitting before him aware of how much we owed and not looking forward to having to start repaying it.

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Guest

I'm going to add a plug for Community Foundations which are non-profits that oversee grants and scholarships in communities. They often have an internal common application for all the scholarships they oversee. They may oversee scholarships on behalf of clubs/organizations, business, wealthy donors who have left large gifts, small/large memorial scholarships, scholarships funded by small donations etc. Many communities of a variety of sizes have a community foundation. http://www.cof.org/ The Council on Foundations can help you start to find a community foundation in your area

Julie Rains's picture

Great list! One thing that I learned when my oldest applied to college is that the application for admission may also serve as an application for university-based scholarships, independent of the financial aid office. So, if you are interested in a school, make sure your application shines not only for admission but also for possible merit-based scholarships.