Searching for Scholarships: Finding Ways to Pay for College

find money.jpg

College is expensive. Finding ways to pay for college using other people’s money is key to making the cost manageable for your family. Scholarships are free money, also known as “gift aid”, for college based on your student’s qualifications--their need, talents, traits, or interests. The giver of the scholarship determines what qualifications are required to receive their money.

Have the College Money Talk

First things first, if you haven’t already done so you need to have the “College Money Talk”  with your young adult so they understand just how important scholarships are to cutting the cost of college and keeping their student loans in check. As parents, we don’t always teach personal finance to our young adults, yet we are asking them to make one of the largest buying decisions of their life at the age of 18. 

Students want to be a part of the money conversation, they just don’t know how. Scholarships are one part of the college funding puzzle that they can 100% have an impact on. If you want some step-by-step help check out our blog post.

Have a scholarship search game plan

to do list.jpg

Finding free money for college will take some investigation on your part, but thanks to the internet and other resources that we will cover here you can find your solution, but you must have a game plan. You can’t control how many scholarships you will be awarded, but you can control how many you apply for.

In my experience, the hard part isn’t finding scholarships to apply for, it’s motivating your high school senior to do them on time! Put yourself in their shoes for a second. “I just completed all of my college applications and essays and the last thing I want to do is more ‘paperwork’ on top of my school work.” Totally understandable!

So, work with your student to set a realistic goal of applying for at least 6 to 8 scholarships that are a good match. Print this blog as a guide of places to get started in the search. 

In this post, we’ll focus on how to find scholarships available from colleges and outside sources. Other forms of gift aid were addressed in our previous blog, “Free Money for College - Grants and Scholarships”.

Start Local

Our initial suggestion for a scholarship search is to start locally. By far, the easiest place to start is your high school guidance counselor. They have the inside track on applicable scholarships for you. Particularly the smaller local scholarships which can really add up, and they often aren’t even posted online. 

Local community groups are also a great resource for finding scholarships. Here in Central Ohio you can check out the Columbus Foundation or I Know I Can -- two examples of excellent local community resources.

Search those groups you and your family are part of. Churches, employers, clubs, and societies are all looking to help students attain their college dreams and want to help financially. 

Check with the College

Talk to your prospective college’s financial aid office. Call, email, or make an appointment. Financial aid officers want you to attend their school so they will try to help you if they can.

We want to make a special mention here about colleges and the merit money they award to students. In our previous blog, we talked extensively about how some colleges have money to give to students who meet certain academic criteria with grade point averages and test scores. We also talked about that top 25% test score benchmark colleges are shooting for. Colleges are looking for the best students, and they are prepared to provide scholarship money to get them.

Search out those schools that award scholarships to every student who meets those marks. Believe it or not several schools in the south (University of Alabama, University of South Carolina, University of Mississippi/Ole Miss to name a few) offer great merit awards because they want to bump up their average ACT scores for new students.

You may want to consider some extra test prep services when you realize the value of a higher ACT score and how that translates into more scholarship money from the college you are interested in attending. Even a point or two can make a big difference.

We have dozens of universities here in Ohio that offer good merit money including schools like Denison University, Capital University, University of Dayton, Ohio Wesleyan, Miami University, Ohio Northern University, and so many more.  

The more desirable you are to the school the more money they will potentially award. Don’t rule out schools based on the sticker price. Cast a wide net, keep your options open, and remember that the sticker price of a college is completely irrelevant. It is all about your “net price” to attend after gift aid is awarded. 

Where do you search online for “Free Money”?

Capstone College Planning Center

The first place I would start is setting up your FREE profile on the Capstone College Planning Center. We house a robust scholarship search engine with thousands of scholarships searchable by geography, major, ethnicity, etc. It is 100% FREE to sign up for, no ads, and lots of other great tools and resources! We never sell or distribute your information to third parties.

google logo.jpg

Google can be your friend

Searching online for scholarships can be time consuming, but it can be worth your while and several search websites are very helpful. A few to consider:

And you can find more out there. Beware of any search engines wanting to charge you money for their services or that won’t protect your personal information. (This is a case when you may want to actually read those privacy rights…are they selling your information?)

A relatively new trend in scholarships are micro-scholarships. These are sites like who award your student small sums of money for various accomplishments during their high school years like a certain amount for an A and so on. These micro-scholarships can only be used at partner colleges, but if your college is on their list, you could find free money on these types of sites.

Final tips?


  • Apply for scholarships early on. You don’t have to wait until your senior year.
  • Be aware of scholarship deadlines. They vary throughout the year. Remember early is better!
  • Don’t discount those small dollar awards. They may have fewer applicants.
  • Don’t discount those scholarships that require a little extra effort. Again, they may have fewer applicants because of the extra requirements to win them.
  • Apply for as many as you can to improve your chances...minimum of 6 to 8.
  • Essays…we could do a whole blog post on essay writing, but we’re money people so better to do a little research on your own for essay writing tips. You might try this.
  • Search and apply for scholarships every year while you’re in college, not just the freshmen year.
  • Don’t give up!

Finding scholarships can be a valuable piece of your paying for college puzzle. Have questions? Capstone is here to help answer them for you.