College Scholarships

If you have a college-bound teen, you’re probably already thinking about ways to make your child’s education more affordable. You know there’s college scholarships out there, but how do you find it? Maximize your family’s chances of scholarship success with these expert tips.

Setting the stage

While many college scholarships are geared toward seniors, keep in mind that your child won’t become an ideal candidate overnight. “Families should begin in 9th grade focusing on academic achievement, extracurricular activities and volunteer work,” says Amanda Howard, School Counselor at Butler Tech School of the Arts. Instead of trying to do every available activity, she encourages students to focus on the ones they truly care about. “Totally immersing yourself in something you are passionate about leads to great opportunities,” she says.

Of course, every student is different. “All students don’t have the opportunity to go out and volunteer,” says Tanya Ficklin, Lead Counselor for Cincinnati Public Schools. “They may be the oldest in their family, so they have to go home and babysit. Or [they] may come from a single parent family, so they have to go to work.” However, she believes that application success is ultimately tied to how well how the student presents himself and the opportunities he has had. For example, by going to work, a student exhibits leadership, responsibility and maturity, she says. Students can ask their guidance counselors or English teachers for assistance in crafting strong applications.

Also, reduce senior year stress by planning ahead. “You can never start researching too soon,” says Ficklin. Begin searching for and tracking potential opportunities early for the best success.

Your scholarship road map

Families should be aware of several general categories of college scholarships. First, colleges themselves offer college scholarships to prospective students, says Ficklin. Many of these are merit-based and tied to test scores. Some also come from specific schools or departments within the university.

[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]“Students should treat applying for college scholarships like a part time job If putting 100 hours into scholarship applications and searches results in $10,000 of scholarship money, then you just earned $100 an hour toward college.”[/gdlr_quote]

Local businesses and community organizations provide an important additional funding source. Howard recommends students check in with their parents’ employers as well as groups that family members belong to. Check out options for children of military veterans as well. Ficklin also points students to the Cincinnati Scholarship Foundation (, which allows Cincinnati area students to apply to be considered for many different college scholarships.

Need more ideas? “One of the best places to start is in your high school counselor’s office,” says Howard. “Most school counselors do a great job maintaining lists of scholarship opportunities for seniors.” You can also check out the Online College Scholarships Search Tools listed here for websites that can aid in your search.

Of course, it’s also important to know which opportunities not to pursue. “You should never pay to do a scholarship search or to submit a scholarship application,” says Howard. She also warns that while many need-based applications require information about your family’s income, no application should need your student’s social security number. “If in doubt, ask your school counselor,” she says.

Tips for a perfect pitch

Once you find a possible scholarship opportunity, help your child stand out from the crowd of applicants. Ficklin recommends thoroughly researching each scholarship and its requirements. Where an essay is required, applicants should be sure to focus directly on the prompt provided.

Howard encourages students to take their time when preparing and proofreading scholarship applications. “No one does their best work the night before a deadline,” she says. Along the same lines, she suggests giving potential references at least two weeks notice to write a letter of recommendation and providing them with a copy of the applicant’s resume or list of relevant accomplishments.

If finding and completing scholarship applications feels like a lot of work, your family may just be doing something right. “Students should treat applying for college scholarships like a part time job,” says Howard. “If putting 100 hours into scholarship applications and searches results in $10,000 of scholarship money, then you just earned $100 an hour toward college.” This hourly rate increases if the scholarships received are renewable. The time your family spends searching for college scholarships can pay off a big way.


Online College Scholarships Search Tools 


Students fill out an online questionnaire and are sent scholarship opportunities matching their interests and career focus.


This popular website provides free information on available college scholarships, loans and more. There’s even a page devoted to college scholarships open to kids younger than 13. 

Fill out an online questionnaire to be sent scholarship matches, learn about financial aid and research colleges.

Federal Student Aid 

Administered by the U.S. Department of Information, this site gives info on federal grants and tips for finding and applying for college scholarships.

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