By the time you do all your college applications, send in a batch of scholarship applications, decide where you’re going, and figure out your funding, it feels like you’ve reached the end of a marathon. But the truth is, you don’t have to be done running just yet. You absolutely can—and should—continue to apply for scholarships throughout your college career, including graduate school, if you go.
Why you should apply for scholarships in college
Scholarships are an ideal source of college funding since they don’t have to be paid back. Winning additional scholarships once you’ve already started school can help you fill in funding gaps and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses and need to borrow. They can also help pay for unexpected expenses that you may not have initially budgeted for.
Additionally, there may be awards that you weren’t eligible for when you initially tackled scholarship applications. For example, scholarships for students in a major you had not yet declared or those specifically for upperclassmen. Not applying for them once you’re in college could mean potentially leaving free money on the table.
Where to find scholarships for college students
- Your school: In high school, the counseling center is a first-line resource for scholarship intel. Once you’re in college, your school’s financial aid office fills a similar role. They should have information about local, national, or regional awards, as well as those only for students at your school.
- Your academic department: An advisor within your department should also be able to direct you to scholarships intended for students in your major or field of study and will likely be a valuable resource on how to win one.
- Large companies: Many large companies provide scholarships to their employees or the children of their employees, so it's always a good idea to check with your and/or your parents' employer about what they may offer. In addition to scholarships, look into tuition reimbursement programs.
- Online search tools: You can use a free online search tool to help you find scholarships based on academics, hobbies and interests, family background, and more. To find ones for college students, filter the results for your current year in school.
Increase your odds of winning scholarship money in college
Once you’re in college, you’ll have lots of demands on your time. Maximize the impact of your efforts by following these tips.
- Continue applying: Set up a routine for yourself that allows you to search for and send in applications year-round. For example, maybe you devote an hour or two every Sunday night to scholarship applications.
- Apply again: If there’s an award you think you’re perfect for but don’t get, try again the next year. You can apply for most scholarships as many times as you want as long as you remain eligible. Put a calendar reminder in your phone for a month before the next due date. And if you see something that you’re not quite eligible for, but may be soon, set a reminder to revisit it at a later date.
- Don’t ignore small scholarships: While it can be tempting to only go for the big fish, scholarships with bigger awards will be more competitive. Don't overlook scholarships with smaller award amounts. Every bit helps, and a bunch of smaller awards can add up to a large amount.
- Learn from past winners: Use your resources to learn what you can about previous winners. Often scholarship websites will list their winners' bios. Read those and try to discern what made the winners stand out, such as their extracurricular activities. If you notice, for example, that several of the winners regularly volunteer, try upping your service hours.
- Secure references: College professors can be an incredible resource for references. Impress them with your class performance and let them know you'd like a reference for a particular scholarship. Once you raise the subject, you might find out that your professor can give you advice on making your application stand out.
- Search for renewable scholarships: These scholarships continue to pay awards every year or semester, as long as you continue to meet the requirements. Some may not automatically renew, so you’ll have to submit a renewal application each year, but it’s still easier than starting from scratch.
Winning scholarships while in college can help you pay for your expenses and even boost your post-grad connections. Apply for scholarships each year, even if you don't win money the first time you apply.