5 Tips for Finding College Scholarships

College is a significant investment and millions of families each year face the question of how to pay for it. One way students can position themselves for success is by seeking out various forms of financial assistance.

Earning scholarships can be one way to offset the financial burden, but winning a scholarship can sometimes be as competitive as gaining admission to the college of your choice.

Some scholarships can be earned by meeting or exceeding certain standards, such as academic performance, while other scholarships are based on financial need or personal interests of the applicant. There’s also a wealth of opportunities that support students in specific areas, whether it be from companies, professional organizations or foundations. For example, the America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders program offers industry-specific scholarships each year for those looking to study agriculture-related fields.

Photo Courtesy of Monsanto Fund (PRNewsfoto/Family Features Editorial)

While your academic performance, character and extracurricular resume all play a part, knowing where to look for scholarships can make all the difference when it comes time to pay for your education. These tips can help you identify and apply for scholarships that match your interests and credentials.

Complete the FAFSA
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may be required to apply for a number of scholarships, particularly scholarships offered by most colleges and universities based on need. It is also required for other forms of financial aid, such as subsidized or unsubsidized loans. While you can begin filling out the FAFSA on Oct. 1 of the year prior to needing aid, many scholarships give priority to students who complete the FAFSA by their state’s application deadline. It is important to note that some colleges and universities have earlier deadlines.

Talk to Your Counselor
Colleges or universities and scholarship providers often supply information about their award offerings and applications to high school counselors. Many institutions also offer specific awards by major for both new and returning students that can be applied for through the school’s financial aid office.

Apply for Scholarships in Your Field of Interest
Many job sectors have scholarship opportunities available through related clubs, organizations, small businesses and other benefactors. For example, the America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund in conjunction with the FFA, provides $1,500 scholarships to students endorsed by local farmers for continuing their education at two- or four-year universities and trade schools in agriculture-related fields of study. This year, the program will award more than $500,000 in scholarships to students in fields such as mathematics, computer science, business, communications, engineering, farming, agronomy, education and more. Students can learn more about the program by visiting GrowAgLeaders.com.

Don’t Overlook Smaller Award Amounts
When it comes to paying for your education, every scholarship you receive – even those that come with smaller, one-time award amounts – can help defray the costs beyond tuition for books, supplies and living expenses. Many times, scholarships with smaller award amounts have fewer additional requirements that must be satisfied outside of materials traditionally required for submission such as transcripts, letters of reference and an application.

Use a Scholarship Search Engine
While a simple search for “college scholarships” on any search engine is likely to elicit plenty of options, there are sites available that are dedicated to helping students identify college scholarship opportunities. While paid options exist, there are also several free sites, such as Scholarships.com, Fastweb and Scholarship America, that can provide local, regional and national options based on the information you provide. Other, more industry-specific websites, such as FFA.org, can provide scholarship opportunities that pertain to a certain field of interest.