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A scholarship search strategy can help save time and money

Scholarships can be an excellent way to help you pay for a degree and make education more affordable, but not all scholarships are available to all students. Each scholarship has a particular set of criteria that recipients must meet to qualify, meaning students should determine what potential scholarship opportunities they qualify for before starting their search.

Rather than applying for any and all scholarships, finding your perfect fit requires seeking out realistic opportunities. However, many students may not know where to start.

Chris Conway, director of financial education initiatives at University of Phoenix, said that students can save time and money by being smart about how they search.

“Not all scholarships are based on merit or financial need. What’s important is that you apply for scholarships that you are likely to receive, meaning those for which you meet the criteria,” Conway said. “It does take time and effort, but every scholarship you earn could be that much less you have to find elsewhere or perhaps borrow.”

Now that you know to look for scholarship in which you qualify, how do you find the right scholarship for you? Here’s a list of tips to help assist in your scholarship hunt.

Do the Due. Diligence, that is.

Some scholarships may require a demonstration of financial need.  In that case it is important that you fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, also known as a FAFSA application. The US Department of Education website has a checklist to walk you through the steps, but you can always contact your college’s financial aid office if you need help.

At this point, if you are a prospective student, you should have a list of institutions you are interested in attending. You’ll want to take a look at the school’s website to get an idea of the types of institutional scholarships you can apply for. While each institution likely has their own deadlines, including priority dates for submitting your FAFSA form, there is also a federal deadline that you have to keep an eye on.

Conway recommends a time commitment of two-to-four hours per month searching and applying for scholarships. She suggests making use of the following public online search sites.

  • College Board
  • Scholarship Owl
  • Unigo
  • Peterson’s

Since these are public sites, Conway reminds students that creating accounts and initiating use of the sites will often result in communication, likely in the form of an email.

Reach out to your employer

Many businesses offer scholarships or grants directly to employees. Reach out to your supervisor to see if there are opportunities through your employee benefits program.

Check locally

Some smaller scholarships offered by individuals, town organizations or small businesses are advertised locally. Check with your local chamber of commerce to see if there are any hometown scholarships.

Focus on the small offers

Are you applying for a high-dollar scholarship? Great, but so is everyone else. Be sure to also apply for smaller scholarships. You may find that multiple small scholarships are helpful.


Many scholarships want to know who you are as a person, what your goals are, what inspires you and why you will succeed. This often comes in the form of a required essay answering a prompt. A well-crafted essay, eloquently representing your essence can help your essay get noticed. Conway suggests saving your applications and essays to see what you can recycle, but make sure you customize them for each application.

Keep plugging away

We could argue that the key to success and living a prosperous life can be achieved through determination. In fact, determination brought you to this very moment! The same applies to scholarships. Don’t get discouraged if you receive a, “we regret to inform you,” message. Don’t let that stop you from continuing your search.

Conway said the key takeaway for scholarship seekers is to be smart about how you search. There are many nuances to the process and doing the proper research can save help save time and energy in the long run. For other questions about how to find potential scholarships, she suggests visiting the Frequently Asked Questions page on

Not all scholarships are based on merit (grades) or financial need. What’s important is you apply for scholarships that you are likely to receive, meaning those for which you meet the criteria.

— Chris Conway

Director of Financial Education Initiatives, University of Phoenix