How to Afford College: Scholarships

What’s better than a gift you don’t have to pay for? That’s exactly what a college scholarship is. And in 2016, approximately 50 percent of families paying for college took advantage of those free gifts, according to a Sallie Mae® study.

The scholarship search process isn’t simple, but diligent legwork and a bit of research can pay off tremendously. Consider these tips to find the college scholarships that are the best fit for you.

Getting Started

When searching for scholarships, start by contacting the financial aid office at the colleges you’re interested in attending for descriptions of the various scholarships they offer.

Next, research the wealth of free information available on the Internet. Sallie Mae’s Scholarship Search enables you to sort through 5 million scholarships worth up to $24 billion, while the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool allows you to browse more than 7,500 scholarships. Both help you narrow results based on criteria like residency and personal interests.

Other places to gather valuable information:

  • Private organizations such as foundations and local businesses: Check your high school guidance office, local career center, local newspaper, and community foundations to find organizations that offer college scholarships.
  • Employers: Both your employer and your parents’ employers might offer scholarship programs.
  • State and federal government offices and websites: Many states provide college scholarships specifically for residents.

Finding the Right Scholarship for You

Scholarships exist for a wide range of activities and interests, including blogging, web design, cosmetology, and more. “Believe it or not, there are scholarships out there for everyone from dart players and vegetarians to filmmakers and those fluent in Klingon,” says Karie Bedford, Client Relationship Manager with Sallie Mae.

And scholarships aren’t just available for those entering college; about half of available scholarships are open to students already enrolled in college, Bedford says. Search for scholarships during your junior and senior years of high school as well as during each year of college.

While some scholarships are awarded based on financial need, others are merit-based, which means you earn them for meeting or exceeding certain standards set by the scholarship giver. Those standards might be based on maintaining a certain GPA, or on a mix of academic achievements and a unique interest or talent, such as athletic ability. Scholarships are also available to students with certain backgrounds. For instance, government organizations like AMVETS and the American Legion offer scholarships for veterans and their families.

Some scholarships might cover your tuition for a whole year, while others may be worth just a few hundred dollars. All college scholarships are worth applying for because at the end of the day, every little bit counts when it comes to reducing your education costs.

Timing is Everything

Each scholarship has its own deadline. If you’re a high school student, begin researching scholarships during your junior year and applying for scholarships during the summer before your senior year, because many scholarship deadlines occur a year before the fall term begins. If you’ve missed that timeframe, don’t worry. There are likely still scholarships out there that you can apply for now.

Learn more about the steps for finding college scholarships. Or put together a plan to save for college with this calculator.


This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.

Regions Bank has selected Sallie Mae as our education loan provider and is compensated for the referral of education loan customers to Sallie Mae. We encourage students and families to supplement their savings by exploring grants, scholarships, federal and state student loans, and to consider the anticipated monthly payments on their total student loan debt and their expected future earnings before considering a private education loan.