The cost of a college education has risen by more than 25% over the last ten years. As a result of ever-increasing tuition costs, high school students are trying to find more financial options to pay for college. That’s where these tips for finding scholarships comes into the picture.
If you’re a high school senior wondering how you’ll afford the high price tag to attend college, scholarships can help you. And merit-based scholarships are not the only options, either. There are scholarships for sports, essays, unusual hobbies, health challenges, and more.
A word of warning: while there are plenty of scholarships with no essay requirements, remember you’ll be competing with hundreds or thousands of other students for each one. Start your scholarship search early.
Instead of trying to blindly hit as many scholarships as you can, try these simple tips:
- Make a list of your interests.
- Find out what scholarships you qualify for.
- Search for those scholarships that fit you.
Strategies for finding Scholarships for High School Seniors
This article will break down the most common types of scholarships for high school seniors, what the qualifications are for each, and how to find them.
The four main scholarship categories are merit-based, need-based, sports, and essay. Let’s take a closer look at each type and how to find out if you qualify.
1. Merit-based scholarships
As the name suggests, these scholarships are awarded for academic performance. Both the colleges themselves and private companies offer merit-based scholarships. When you apply to a college for admission, if you fit their criteria, you’ll automatically be considered for any scholarships the school offers.
Parents’ incomes are not considered when deciding who wins merit-based scholarships. In addition to your GPA, some of these scholarships may also consider your leadership roles, ACT or SAT scores, and whether you’re a resident of that school’s state. If you’re an out-of-state student, you may have access to more funding.
An interesting footnote: Ivy league schools (like MT or Harvard) don’t provide merit-based scholarships, but they do offer financial aid.
Search Tips for Merit-based Scholarships
To find merit-based scholarships that best suit you, look at your interests. Then Google scholarships based on your interest. If you were captain of your high school debate team, try searching for “debate scholarships,” “debate merit scholarships,” and so on. Get creative with your search terms.
Many of the biggest, most well-known Fortune 500 corporations offer scholarships. While there are too many to list here, below are a few examples to show you the kinds of opportunities available.
- Buick Achievers Scholarship – Founded and funded by General Motors, this scholarship awards up to $25,000 per recipient. It’s intended for students interested in pursuing a career in engineering, technology, or similar fields.
- Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation – The soda company giant provides scholarships for students who demonstrate academic excellence, leadership, and volunteer work.
- Dell Scholars – In addition to tuition awards of up to $20,000 each, Dell Scholars provides recipients with a new laptop and money for textbooks.
2. Need-based scholarships
Need-based scholarships are just what they sound like. They’re awarded because of financial need. However, such scholarships still consider academic, artistic, or athletic achievements. Despite having many of the same benchmarks as merit-based scholarships, need-based ones also factor in your family’s income.
Before applying for need-based scholarships, you’ll first need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Visit your school’s financial aid department. They’ll be able to help you find out what you qualify for.
To find need-based scholarships, search online for companies and organizations that offer them. You can also go directly to the school you’re interested in to see what they offer.
While there are far too many company-sponsored needs-based scholarships to list here, below are a few examples of what some offer.
- The Gates Scholarship – Founded by Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation, this scholarship covers the difference between what your federal aid covers and your tuition expenses.
- The Greenhouse Scholars Program – This scholarship is for high school seniors whose family income is less than $70,000 per year. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
- Unmet Need Scholarship Program – While this scholarship is only intended as a supplemental scholarship (awards total from $1000-$3000), it’s still worth checking out. To qualify, your total family income must not exceed $30,000.
Did you know that various national, state, and local homeschool organizations offer scholarships for college-bound homeschoolers? Don’t forget to check with your homeschool support organization to learn about scholarship opportunities available through them.
3. Sports scholarships
The big focus of sports scholarships is on athletic achievement. If you get one, it means the college believes your abilities can help the school’s team.
Despite their focus on athletics, sports scholarships still emphasize academic achievement. Most sports scholarships have minimum standards of
- A GPA requirement of 3.5
- A 25+ on the ACT
- A minimum of 1200 on SATs
While many TV shows and movies show high school students being aggressively recruited by college coaches, you’ll have more success by being proactive. Put yourself in front of schools and promote yourself. Here are some simple steps you can take to get the attention of college coaches.
- Start by making a list of the schools you’d like to attend.
- Gather the email addresses of the coaches from those schools.
- Put together a solid resume and a high-quality video of your skills or highlights from your competitions. Be sure to add a link to that video in your email.
- Send both to the coaches on your list.
Following Up with Coaches
If you don’t hear from the coaches on your list, pick up the phone and call them. Learn more about their schools. Respond promptly to any coach who reaches out to you.
When coaches want to talk to you, be prepared. Know the details of their team’s previous season. Have a list of questions for the coach. Be respectful of their time by being on time for phone calls, interviews, or Zoom sessions.
Most importantly, understand the rules the NCAA and NAIA have in place for the contact between coaches and students. Study those rules carefully to determine your qualifications and eligibility.
4. Essay Scholarships
Do you enjoy writing? Essay scholarships are awarded in a variety of fields and require essays of varying lengths. Most traditional college applications also require an essay and are capped at 500 words. The difference with essay scholarships? Their requirements are longer, with many in the 750–1500-word range.
Some essay scholarships focus only on the writing requirements. Others also have GPA standards or financial qualifications. As with other types of scholarships, you’ll need to read the qualifications of each to know what you’ll need to do.
Finding these kinds of scholarships is like finding merit or need-based scholarships. Try Googling “writing scholarships.” You can also search for scholarships in the field you’re interested in.
The Internet offers plenty of opportunities for scholarships for high school seniors. Just Googling the term “easy scholarships” will turn up an incredible array of scholarship opportunities. Once again, you’ll have better results if you narrow your search to scholarships that fit you.
5. Other Scholarship Types
Here are a few ideas for your scholarship searches:
- Minority scholarships – Opportunities include (but are not limited to) African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, American Indians/Native Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ2+
- Students with health conditions – A partial list of conditions for a scholarship includes mental health, diabetes, epilepsy, leukemia, and multiple sclerosis.
- Students with learning challenges – While having ADHD is what many people think of for learning disabilities, there are also scholarships available for people who struggle with vision, hearing, or mobility, just to name a few.
- Hobby scholarships – Opportunities are out there for students who demonstrate social activism, active in visual or performing arts, community service, and volunteering, just to name a few.
While the Internet has endless scholarship opportunities just a click away, you’ll have better results by first looking at who you are. What’s your financial situation? What are your strengths? What are your interests? Are you looking to make the world a better place?
Once you answer those questions, begin your search. If you’re having trouble finding scholarships you qualify for, go offline and reach out to real, breathing people. Talk to your high school guidance counselor. Talk to a trusted teacher. They may be able to help you pinpoint things you’d qualify for that you haven’t thought of.