Outside Scholarships – Putting Together Your Plan

Adult learner researching outside scholarships

Looking for outside scholarships has never been easier in the age of the internet. Winning them is a different story. Employees often hear that scholarship dollars go unspent, but due to the ability to search easily online, this is not usually the case. The biggest thing an employee needs to understand is that this process takes time. Many employees start the process a few months or less before they intend to begin their program, but I suggest a longer hunt, if possible. Searching takes time. Plus, most organizations have strict deadlines and only offer awards once a year.  

Time can make a significant difference. Most scholarship applications become available a year before the student intends to use the funds. As you explore continuing your education, this could be an opportune time to consider what scholarships opportunities are available beyond your tuition assistance. Employees who begin the process early can start by making a list to track pertinent information. One option is to create a spreadsheet with columns for the scholarship name, website, deadlines, eligibility requirements, and amount. I often compare the time it takes to look for an outside scholarship to a part-time job. You need to consider if this is realistic for you and if you have the time to invest searching for these funds. 

When looking for outside money it is important to search in the right places. While you may see headlines for services that guarantee scholarships, there may be a catch. You may be asked to pay a fee and we suggest that you do not pay for outside scholarship services. There are many legitimate places where students can find outside scholarships where there are no fees. Consider places where you already have ties - local civic organizations, place of worship, local foundations, and professional associations. When looking for community-based scholarships consider reaching out to your local library as they may have resources that you can tap. Or try a Google search with the name of your county and community foundation. 

If you still have time once you have exhausted your connections, you can start casting your net a little wider by looking at online scholarship search engines. This will take more time and effort; you will complete an online survey to create a profile. In turn, you will be provided with a list of scholarship opportunities that “match” your answers. This is not a perfect list. You will need to narrow down the results to those scholarships to which you are better suited. There are dozens of outside scholarship search engines; you do not need to create a profile on every site. Picking two or three is sufficient to do the job. A couple that I like are www.scholarships.com and www.bigfuture.org

Doing your own online search is another strategy to identify scholarship opportunities. You can be as general or specific when doing your search. For example, when working with a student who wants to study nursing I may look for scholarships for nursing, but I may try to narrow it down to the state the student lives in, their gender, or a specific specialty that they want to focus on like oncology or pediatrics. 

Narrowing down the list is one step of the process. Scholarships come in all amounts; take time and apply for a number of smaller scholarships. Winning a few smaller scholarships may be easier than winning one large scholarship for $5,000. Smaller scholarships may have fewer applicants than the larger ones. Some scholarships may have an essay component along with the application. While you have other demands, putting in the extra effort can also help land a scholarship as others may shy away from applying for those awards that require more time and energy. If you spend time writing an essay, see if it might work for another scholarship application too.  

Making a game plan can help you complete a successful scholarship search. The awards may not fill your shortfall, but they can help close the gap. Remember: this process does not end once you enter college. Many scholarships are for one year; you should continue looking for opportunities and keep a running list while you are working towards the completion of your degree. 

Beth Feinberg Keenan head shot
About the Author
Beth Feinberg Keenan
Director, College Finance
Beth has spent her entire professional career in financial aid. She started at Lesley University and spent over a decade at Northeastern University's Office for Student Financial Services, where she was a senior assistant director. At Northeastern, Beth worked with applicants for financial aid, athletes, and families interested in financing their educations. In addition, she has served as an ambassador with the Massachusetts Education Finance Authority, visiting Massachusetts high schools to introduce students and parents to the financial aid process and the many sources of education financing that are available. Beth is a graduate of Scripps College in Claremont CA, and she has an MBA and a Master's in College Student Development and Counseling from Northeastern University. She serves as an ambassador with the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
Adult learner researching outside scholarships

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