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  • Last-minute scholarships are available to those who know where to look and meet the eligibility criteria.
  • While tempting, big money scholarships are usually harder to get. Instead, experts suggest stockpiling smaller awards.
  • Scammers are out there. If you’re asked to pay a fee in exchange for a guaranteed scholarship, that’s a red flag.

With college costs being what they are, most students are looking for all the financial help they can get—but when is it too late to apply for scholarships? The truth is that scholarships are available year-round, so you can apply for them anytime.

"Many scholarships offer rolling deadlines," says Jodi Okun, the founder of College Financial Aid Advisors. "You might be surprised at how many scholarships are live and active right now. You can even keep applying throughout the school year."

If you know where to look and how to apply for college scholarships, you increase your chances of success.

Is it too late to apply for scholarships?

The short answer is no. The US Department of Education, along with colleges and universities, dole out roughly $95 billion in grants and scholarships each year, according to the National Scholarship Providers Association. There are many different types of financial aid, but it’s more than possible to find last-minute scholarships. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is knowing where to find them.

Where to look for college scholarships

"One of the first places to start is your high school," suggests Okun. "Check with the career or counseling center. They usually have a list of available scholarships."

These scholarships range from community-based scholarships, such as those offered by local credit unions and grocery stores to global scholarships offered through service organizations like Rotary International or Lions Clubs. Many workplaces also offer matching scholarships to the children of employees, and students can check with a local church, temple, or mosque for potential awards.

Okun also suggests looking online. You can use a free online search tool to help you find scholarships based on academics, hobbies and interests, family background, and more. Once you start running an online search, it's easy to see that there are thousands of scholarships available—with awards ranging from $100 to $250,000.

Some college scholarships are a little off-the-wall or aimed at a group of people with specific characteristics. "Duck Brand® duct tape offers a scholarship for winners who create prom dresses from duct tape," Okun points out. There are scholarships offered to those who are tall or those who do well in a mock stock market competition. It's even possible to find scholarships for trade schools.

Increase your chances of earning college scholarships

One of the biggest pitfalls faced by students trying to earn college scholarships is that they focus on the big money contests. "Applying to more, smaller scholarships is the key to better success," Okun says. "Apply to 40 or 50 scholarships at smaller dollar amounts."

Big money scholarships draw a larger pool of applicants, and it's easy for your application to get lost in the shuffle. Smaller scholarships tend to have fewer applicants or they offer awards to more students. Since many smaller college scholarships have rolling due dates, Okun suggests prioritizing according to the due date that is coming up first.

Looking ahead and actively planning might also help you find more free money for college. New scholarships are being posted all the time. Plan ahead by setting aside time each week to research and apply for more. Available scholarships may just be waiting for someone to claim them. Next, Okun suggests having someone else look over the application before you submit it. "Even with smaller competition, you still want to present yourself professionally and competently," she says.

Beware of scams

Okun warns that not all websites that promise college scholarships are created equal. "Stay away from scholarship searches that ask you for friends' names or numbers," she says. "These may be data-mining sites and they shouldn't be trusted. Also, don't use a site that requires a fee. There are plenty of free search websites out there."

Here are some other scholarship scam red flags to look out for. Beware of websites and organizations that:

  • Ask for money upfront in exchange for a guaranteed scholarship or grant
  • Use high-pressure sales tactics
  • Request your Social Security number or bank information

Having said that, legitimate scholarships are available all year long—including last-minute scholarships. It all comes down to knowing where to look and maximizing your chances of success.

"So many scholarships are just sitting there," says Okun. "No one has won them or even looked at them. You could be the one to scoop those up."

Duck Brand® is a registered trademark of Shurtape Technologies, LLC and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

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