It is much faster and easier to get scholarships and grants than it was 20 years ago, before the Internet changed the process for finding information forever. Now you just need an Internet connection and a phone, tablet or computer to find multiple resources for free money for college.
The following five ways to search are all viable and every one of them is a potential gold mine.
1. School: It makes sense, doesn't it? Since school is the primary place for formal education of teenage students who are about to potentially go on to a postsecondary education, you can expect to find fliers, posters and planned financial aid information nights at your high school or possibly even middle school.
Look in the school's lobby or rotunda and check your guidance counselor's bulletin board. Ask your teachers and counselors about any potential financial aid for which you might be eligible. It doesn't hurt to ask. There is nothing to lose and who knows – you might find a way to pay for a portion of your college costs.
2. Local library: The next most education-centered local source for most students is likely to be the public library. If you have one, even if you have not been a regular visitor, nothing is keeping you from going and asking the librarian or another employee what they know about local scholarship availability. Often you will find it is just a matter of asking the right person the right question when it comes to unlocking a wealth of valuable information.
3. Community organizations: If you or your parents belong to an organization such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, Elks National Foundation or similar community organizations, you should find out if they offer any scholarships or grants. There are so many opportunities for students and parents who belong to these organizations, it is just a matter of performing a little bit of research.
The Scholarships for Scouts website lists many scholarship opportunities for students involved in scouting, so the parameters and deadlines will vary. The Elks National Foundation offers more than one scholarship so parameters and requirements will vary. However, they will require membership, so find out if your parent, uncle, aunt or a grandparent is a member and, if so, look into this great opportunity. Awards from the 4-H club will vary, but if you are a member, you should look up your local chapter and see what they offer. In Illinois, for example, 4-H Club has many youth development programs as well as a variety of scholarships.
4. Your employer: This could be a company for which a parent or possibly other relative has worked for years, or even your part-time employer when you are in high school. Any corporation with which you are connected might be a scholarship resource. Be sure to find out if any of the employers of anyone in your family offers scholarships or grants.
The McDonald's Educates Scholarship Program offers one $1,000 award each year to a high-achieving student employee from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. One of those winners is eligible for a $5,000 prize. The United Technologies Employee Scholar Program covers tuition, academic fees and book costs for students attending of the company's approved colleges, and there is no restriction on the type of degree. And the CVS Health Scholarships are available to students of full-time CVS employees. The application process will reopen in early 2016.
5. Free online scholarship searches: This one, naturally, is my favorite. Ever since the late 1990s, students and parents have been able to easily get scholarships online, and even get matched to them by creating a profile. Rather than searching for each type of scholarship for which you feel qualified, specialized websites allow you to just answer a few questions and find hundreds of potential sources for free college money.
Not only that, but you can save, organize and update your profile and search results, tracking which ones you plan to apply for, those you don't, those you have applied for, etc.
While I recommend using all of the above mentioned methods, we all know time can be a major factor when pursuing such an endeavor. This is why I am constantly preaching the "early and often" method of researching and applying for scholarships. Start now and don't stop until there are no reasonable matches left. If you want to win scholarships, you are going to have to find them first.