Skip to content
financial aid college award letter grants scholarships

Five Key Qs & As About Finding College Scholarships

Mar 06, 2024

College can be expensive. Discovering ways to decrease the cost by finding free money could make the difference between graduating with mountains of debt or not.  In this blog post, we will answer five key questions about grants and scholarships.

1. What is the difference between a grant and a scholarship?

These terms are often used interchangeably to note an award that is not required to be repaid (i.e., loans) or is earned (i.e., federal work-study). Grants are need-based and often offered by the federal government, state, or university based upon eligibility determined by the FAFSA®. Click here for more information about the $120 billion of federal aid offered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Scholarships, on the other hand, are more often merit-based and are offered by colleges, states, corporations, community groups, private philanthropists – just about anyone for any reason. There are scholarships for:

2. How much scholarship money is available?

A lot.

According to the Education Data Initiative, over 1.7 million private college scholarships are awarded annually. Since 2003, the amount of private scholarships has more than doubled from an estimated $3.3 billion to over $7.4 billion.

3. How do you get in on the action?

There are many sources of information:

  • On-line resources. This free scholarship search at My College Corner is easy to use. There is no required sign-up or annoying email follow-ups.
  • High school counselors. School counselors know your student and their special talents and attributes. They can often recommend scholarships offered by local community groups and businesses, and guide students to specific colleges which may offer merit aid because they are seeking students like yours.
  • Books. Gen and Kelly Tanabe used scholarships to pay their way through college and now publish an annual guide, the most recent: The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2025. There are numerous other books to consult along these lines.
  • Colleges and universities. The financial aid and scholarship sections of college websites discuss their respective offerings and application procedures.
  • Your network. Your personal network is powerful. Family members, teachers, counselors, and particularly parents of students who recently graduated are great sources of information.

4. What are some tips to win scholarships?

  • Know the Deadlines. Scholarships have deadlines that may be a specific date, continuous (i.e., awarded throughout the year), or that may vary (i.e., quarterly or semi-annually). The Scholarship Search at allows you to search based on each type of deadline. Scholarships with deadlines do not accept submissions past that due date, so students should be mindful of that date.
  • Research Requirements Carefully. Each scholarship has its own set of eligibility criteria and application requirements. Make sure your student thoroughly reads and understands the instructions before applying to ensure they meet all the necessary qualifications. The Scholarship Search at contains links for each individual scholarship listing connecting users to more in-depth information on these requirements.
  • File a Great Application. This is no time to be modest. Your student should emphasize the accomplishments, strengths, and unique qualities that make them stand out. And while it can be very tempting to write one good essay and submit it for every scholarship, personalizing and focusing the response can be advantageous. Addressing the specific prompts or themes outlined by the scholarship provider is critical.
  • Stay Organized. High school seniors are juggling many balls – filing college applications and financial aid forms, tracking down letters of recommendation, getting good grades, etc. It’s easy to lose sight of private scholarship deadlines.  Help them identify a way to keep focused on finding free money for college.

5. What should you avoid when looking for scholarships?

Sadly, fraudsters and scammers often target families seeking free money for college. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Advice site provides very good information on avoiding “scholarship and financial aid scams.”

When looking for scholarships, avoid:

  • Paying a fee of any kind to a “consultant” or “finder”
  • Paying an “application fee” or a fee to “disburse” or “redeem” an award
  • Providers who guarantee a match
  • Providing sensitive personal information such as social security number, credit card or bank details

The Last Word

Scholarships can reduce the financial burden and making college more affordable. By starting to search early, utilizing available resources, and following best practices for applying for free money, paying the college bill might get a little easier.