Sorting through the seemingly endless amount of scholarship information available can be mind boggling. By that I mean there are almost countless scholarship website on the internet. There are also hundreds of books published on the subject. But there are a number of things you can do to try to streamline the process.
First, take a personal inventory. Figure out what you enjoy doing to help you select a college and possible major. Also make a list of all the activities you've participated in both inside and outside of school which will help with a scholarship search. Examples of activities that are important to list are:
• School Sports and Clubs
• Extra Curricular Activities such as private lessons (music, skating, acting),
sports lessons etc.
• Religious Groups – Bible Study, Youth Group etc.
• Eagle Scouts and Venture Crew
• Summer Programs such as Study Abroad, Pre-College and Summer Camps
• Volunteer Activities
• Honors Received
Think about the careers you are interested in and do a little research to figure out how much money you can earn by selecting different career paths. Although you should pick a career you'll enjoy, the money you'll earn in the future is an important consideration. College is expensive so you want to pick something that both interests you and that will lead you to produce an income consistent with the type of lifestyle you want to lead.
Second, meet with your guidance counselor and try to figure out early on which schools you are interested in attending based on your interests. Visit those schools early in your junior year if you can. Ideally, if you determine which schools you want to attend you'll then want to consider applying for early admission. In most cases, you'll be eligible for more scholarships that way. If you wait to apply for regular admission, there will be less scholarship opportunities available at that time and most likely you'll be competing with more applicants for them.
Take it from me. I actually had all my college applications completed by the end of the summer before I started my senior year. I submitted all those applications, transcripts, essays and related materials within the first few weeks of starting my senior year. I did this because my guidance counselor said 'The schools themselves award the most scholarship money.'
So, I figured applying early was the easiest path to take and by having everything done so early it would take a lot of pressure off of me. I actually had my college acceptances in hand before most of my fellow students had finished their applications. This paid off for me big time because the university I ultimately selected did indeed award me a generous scholarship. So, my guidance counselor was right!
Third, start looking for scholarships during your junior year. I found that many states offer their own scholarship programs. This was the other area where I had a lot of success, so you should check what your state may have to offer by visiting the following link:
Once you are at that site, you can then scroll down the main page to find the hyperlink to the state in which you reside. Click on the appropriate hyperlink and you'll be amazed what you find there.
Fourth, your high school guidance office may distribute a list of websites that the school recommends you visit to search for scholarships. I recommend using some of these sites to get an idea of what's out there. But you also need to focus on what makes you unique by looking at your hobbies, sports, your employer (as well as that of your parents) and volunteer history for example. Then you need to search for scholarships individually based on those aspects of your background. A few of the sites generally recommended are:
www.collegeboard.com (also the site to access to register for your SAT)
Be sure to read up on scholarship scams because unfortunately they exist. Generally if something seems suspicious you need to research it thoroughly. I'd be a little gun shy about anyone asking me to spend money to obtain scholarship information. For the most part, the information can be found for free but it does take a bit of time and a little research know-how.
Finally, don't forget about Financial Aide. The federal Financial Aide site is at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ and each college has their own requirements for the school's financial aid awards. Be sure to apply as early as possible and pay particular attention to any published deadlines.