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Back-to-School: How to Find + Win College Scholarships

Whether you're a high school senior on the hunt for the perfect university, or a college junior preparing for that last stretch before obtaining your Bachelors, there's one checklist item that unites any and all degree-seekers across the nation: Pay for School.

College Scholarship | Image source: / Photographer: Creativa Images

Maybe your parents or grandparents have saved up a good chunk of change for you over the last several years, or maybe you've already planned on taking out loans to pay for your education. But there's one avenue everyone should try, every year throughout a college career: Scholarships.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ways you can go about finding scholarships and winning them.

Finding College Scholarships:

High Schoolers: Visit Your Guidance Counselor's Office

Even if you rarely made a point to visit this particular part of the school building during your years as a Freshman, Sophomore, or Junior, you should start spending a good portion of your time in the Guidance Department during your Senior year. Typically, the front desk or waiting area will be full of information regarding both local and national scholarships and their applications.

Make an appointment with your counselor to discuss your options, too. They have access - and know-how - when it comes to obtaining additional, local scholarships, as well as scholarships and grants to the school you've selected or those geared toward the field of study you've chosen.

College Students: Visit Your Advisor + Financial Aid Office

Just because you're not an incoming Freshman or because you've changed your major a couple of times doesn't mean you're not eligible for new financial aid year to year. Trust us, we understand the burnout that comes with having to balance work, classes, exams, and a social life - it can make it really difficult to get motivated to search and apply for scholarships on top of everything else. But it's totally worth it.

At the end of each semester, schedule some time to meet with a financial aid advisor who can make sure you're still receiving the financial assistance that best suits your current situation, that you're on track with the right loans, and who can direct you to any additional scholarships or grants.

Also, make a point to meet with your academic advisor or your chosen major's department head to discuss any scholarships being offered by the department (or related departments) you're studying in.

Look to Local Financial Institutions + Insurance Agencies

If you've been with your financial institution for a long time (or even if you haven't), get in touch and see if they offer a scholarship program. 3Rivers gives away over $10,000 in scholarships to students every year!

Sometimes, you can apply for membership during the scholarship application process, or even after you've won. If you're in good standing with a small-town institution, your chances are immediately very high - so, go for it!

If your parents are members of a local insurance agency or union of some sort, these institutions also very likely have scholarships available to you.

Check Out Other Local Organizations

Many non-profits, churches, clubs, and other organizations give away college scholarships year to year. Being from a very small township, I applied for many scholarships through organizations I was not even affiliated with, but because other students weren't seeking them out, or there weren't many eligible because they lived outside of township lines, I received many of them - some more than once!

Go Online

Sites like, and College Board have a huge database of searchable scholarships - local, state, and national - along with lots of tips on applying for them. 

Never pay for online college scholarship sites. There are plenty of safe and legit free options out there that keep your information confidential. Again, check out your high school and university's websites, too, as they likely keep updated lists of scholarship opportunities posted.

Getting the Scholarship:

Now that you've found the perfect scholarship(s), how do you go about actually receiving it?

Don't Hesitate

So many scholarship recipients win because other students simply don't apply. It might seem like you have a one-in-a-thousand chance, or aren't even completely eligible, but you never know, especially when it comes to local scholarships. The odds may be more in your favor than you think!

Be Timely

Grandpa wasn't lying when he said, "The early bird gets the worm." We're not saying that applying for a scholarship late in the game will totally kill your chances, but definitely don't go submitting them at the last minute, or worse - after the deadline. Plus, submitting applications earlier than required means you can apply for more later without feeling burnt out.

Try keeping a list of scholarships you'd like to apply for, along with their deadlines and requirements (will you have to write an essay, create a video, partake in a real life interview) and then create a calendar of when to work on, and submit, each of them.

Ask for Help

  • Recommendations: Most scholarship applications will require a recommendation letter or two. Select a couple of teachers or professors, and get in touch with a relative, boss, friend of the family, or other contact and let them know you'd like for them to write your recommendations. It's perfectly fine to have the same people write "multiple letters." Just give them a list of the scholarships you're applying for and have them send or print off their recommendations with the proper adjustments.
  • Reviews: Never, we repeat, NEVER send off your scholarship essays or applications before having another pair of eyes review them for you. If possible, have your school counselor or advisor review them. If not, grab a parent, friend, or roommate and ask them to have a look over your work before submitting.

Write a Solid Essay

An essay portion of a scholarship application is often the most important. Check out our tips for crafting a winning scholarship essay!

Create a Powerful Video

Many scholarships require that you submit a video application.  Take this advice and create a short video that will wow the judges.

Knock Your Interview Out of the Park

There may be a couple of scholarship application processes in which the final step is a face-to-face interview. It'll feel kind of like a job interview, and you should go in taking it just as seriously as one. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you find yourself at this point!

Give Thanks

Be sure to thank those who took the time to write your recommendations, review your applications, and - if you've obtained the scholarship - granted you a bit of means to pay for your education.

Jot down the addresses of the organizations awarding the scholarship and send them a handwritten "thank you." This is especially important for local scholarships that you might be able to apply for year after year.


The college years are such an exciting time and you shouldn't be stressed to the max about paying for them later. Give it all you've got when it comes to receiving extra money while you're a student - because take it from those of us who have been there - even having the cost of books covered for one semester is a huge deal!

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