Mike Brown Updated on February 8, 2017

You know how valuable a scholarship can be in offsetting your educational expenses and lowering your future loan debt. But how can you learn where to find scholarships for colleges that fit your qualifications and give you a good chance of earning an award? There are a variety of large and small organizations that offer scholarships each year. And there are many ways to find them. Embark on your search by following some of the suggestions below.

Start with your school(s)

See if your high school offers any special awards for its grads-to-be. These awards may be merit-based, athletic, artistic or associated with specific extracurricular activities, community service clubs or honor societies. When you start your search for scholarships for college, your guidance counselor or principal should be able to point you in the right direction. If you have already chosen or been accepted by a specific school, look into school-specific merit- or need-based awards. Contact your school’s financial aid office and ask about scholarship qualifications. If you meet them, ask how to apply. Remember, applying for admission to a school and applying for scholarships are two separate processes.

Find scholarships online

When you want to know where to go to find scholarships, the internet is a natural resource. You can start with the CollegeBoard site, one you are probably already familiar with for test prep and college searches. Then drill down into your personal attributes, hobbies and interests, and use those as search terms (e.g., scholarships for people who raise rabbits; college scholarships for drummers).

Browse the bulletin board

Before there was the internet, there were bulletin boards. They still exist in places you likely visit at least weekly. Look for them in your school’s guidance office, public library, church, community center, coffee shop and bookstore or at your job.

Check with community organizations

Even if you don’t see anything posted, it’s a good idea to ask at your place of worship, community and civic groups – such as the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. If you’re a member of an organization like the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA or 4-H, there’s a good chance they can connect you with some opportunities, too. In some cases, your parent or guardian’s employer or labor union might also sponsor some scholarships.

Search within your state

Planning to attend college in the same state where you currently live? Many states offer scholarship programs for residents attending in-state schools. Most of these awards are merit-based, though some are based on financial need or special interests. Ask your guidance counselor or add your state to your online scholarship search criteria to identify options.

Find federal funding

When you want to find scholarships for college, look to the federal government. It is the largest source of need-based scholarships, primarily in the form of Pell Grants. If you want to see if you qualify for a federal grant or award, you must submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Aside from aid from the U.S Department of Education, the federal government also offers ROTC scholarships, aid for those who have done community service through AmeriCorps, education and training vouchers for former foster care youths and aid for serving in the military or for spouses or children of veterans.

Wondering how you get scholarship money?  Just as a college education is worth your time and attention, so too is the search for scholarships. Take an organized and deliberate approach to finding scholarships that match your achievements and passions. Then, when you choose which applications to complete, avoid these seven big mistakes to increase your chances of being chosen for the prestigious prize.

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