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College Advising Guide to Scholarships for College

Scholarships can play an important role in helping to finance a student’s college experience. This guide will help you understand how to best approach searching for scholarships, where to find them, and advice on how to (and not to) think about scholarships in the college process. It is important to be upfront with your or your student’s college advisor about any financial limitations from the beginning, so that the college advisor can suggest colleges that will be attainable both in terms of admission and financial aid. 

What is “need”?

Colleges allocate funding differently. Some institutions only offer need-based financial aid, which refers to the family’s ability to pay as calculated from information on the FAFSA, and sometimes CSS Profile. This can differ from a family’s expectations. It is important to enter the application process with a clear understanding of what your expected contribution will be and to have an honest conversation about the feasibility of meeting that contribution. If your family’s financial need is high (again, as calculated only by the FAFSA/CSS Profile), please communicate this to your college advisor so they can ensure your student’s list includes places that are guaranteed to provide the funding you need. Families with high financial need should not rely on scholarships to fund the majority of a student’s college education. 

How much can scholarships really cover?

Scholarships can be quite generous, but rarely do they provide enough funding to cover the total cost of attendance. Most are one-time awards in the range of $500-$1000. If your need is high, it is imperative to focus on colleges that are guaranteed to provide adequate funding (Washington state publics and private colleges that guarantee to meet full demonstrated financial need). Do not rely on scholarships alone to meet full need. 

What if a family doesn’t qualify for need-based aid, but will require financial assistance?

If you’re in a position where you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid (or very little need-based financial aid), merit scholarships, which are issued by a specific college, with funding tied only to that college, will usually offer the most. The processes for being considered for these awards varies by college - sometimes the student is automatically considered at the time of application and sometimes scholarships require separate applications. If merit scholarships are important to your family, it is the student’s responsibility to research eligibility for these awards. 

Not all colleges offer merit scholarships and award amounts vary greatly. There is not always a clear guide to how much merit money a student may receive, making it important to speak with your student’s college advisor about what might be possible at each school, or which schools are known to be generous with their merit scholarship offers. 

What about outside scholarships?

There are many opportunities for students to earn scholarships that are not awarded directly from colleges. However, these scholarships tend to be awarded in one-time, smaller, amounts that are highly unlikely to cover the full cost of attendance. While they should not be relied upon to cover the full cost of attendance, they may be helpful in offsetting some of the financial commitment of going to college. 

Students seeking outside scholarships must be diligent in consistently applying for them, and also understanding that applications may not always yield results. In applying for scholarships, students should not lose sight of producing quality college applications and performing well in their classes. Doing well in school must always be the student’s first priority. 

What are some resources for finding scholarships?

There are a number of places to consult when looking for outside scholarships including:

Locally: Your local library, chamber of commerce and local businesses are good places to start. These places sometimes have scholarships that are geared specifically to college bound students in the immediate area. 

Work: Many employers have scholarships for the children of employees. Inquire at your organization to see if there are opportunities available. 

Online: A first stop is to use the scholarship search function in Maia Learning (found under "Universities"). Common App also offers scholarship and financial aid tools under the tab "Financial Aid Resources."

Other resources include:  

Some scholarships require essays, letters of recommendation, or transcripts as part of the application process. College Advising is happy to assist you in your scholarship application process, but we will need a minimum of one week while school is in session to be able to process or create any supporting materials for you. Remember that College Advising is closed during school breaks.  

Best practices

  • Be organized and consistent. Understand that the return on these is typically 1 out of every 10 for which you apply. 

  • Make this a habit and don’t be last minute. If outside scholarships are very important, plan to apply to approximately 5 per week. Like anything, the more you do it the better you will be at it. It is important to keep organized and understand the work it takes to be successful in the scholarship process. 

  • Be realistic about what scholarships you apply for. Don’t spend time or energy on scholarships for which you are ineligible. For example, if the criteria lists a required 3.8 GPA and your GPA is 3.3, it would be unwise to apply. 

  • Be prepared to wait. Their timeline may not be your timeline and communication will likely not be as frequent as applying to college. 

  • Beware of scams! If you are unsure of a scholarship’s legitimacy, check with your college advisor! Don’t share personal information like your social security number.