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Quick Tips on Starting Your Scholarship Search

College • January 06, 2020 • Tim Gorrell

What you’ll learn

  • The importance of scholarships
  • Where you can apply for scholarships
  • Who can help you find and apply for scholarships

Looking to piece together your paying-for-college plan? Consider free money, like scholarships. These tips and resources will help you get started.

When your teenager says that they are bored, share this suggestion – start looking for scholarships for their higher education. Scholarships are free money and they do not have to be repaid, unlike a loan. While your student has some down time, it’s a great opportunity to start searching for those funds that can support their higher education without costing anything for your family.

Why start the scholarship search early

It’s important to start early as some scholarships may have deadlines a year out from when the dollars are released. So if your student would like to earn these scholarships to cover their college costs for freshman year, then they will need to fill out the application the summer before their senior year of high school. Also, it takes time to do the research to find all the available scholarships for which your student may be qualified to augment college savings.

Before starting the scholarship search

Your teenager can prepare for their scholarship search earlier in their high school years, or even middle school. Besides academic grades, scholarship organizations put a high emphasis on activities outside of the regular classroom. So what is your student passionate about? This can lead to volunteering opportunities to add to their scholarship applications and might even inspire what field they will want to study for their higher education. Are there any extracurricular academic clubs that they have joined and any sports in which they participate? Do they work a part-time job to add to their college savings? Not only do these activities show off your student’s skills, but also shows that they enjoy challenges and have good time management. Many organizations with which your child might do community service, volunteer work, participate in athletically or academically, also offer specialized grants for individuals who have worked with them.

How to get going on the scholarship search

It can be hard to know where to start. You can learn more by visiting Federal Student Aid, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Education. This is the federal agency for which you will fill out the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much federal financial aid your student will receive. The agency offers guidance on scholarships, including what other sources to tap for more information, including the free scholarship search tool from the U.S. Department of Labor.

High school counselors are an asset in your search

An appointment with the high school counselor can also be a good second stop. They have access to many resources and scholarship tools to point you and your student in the right direction. The counselors also can offer guidance on scholarship essays, and help your student prepare for the scholarship interview process. They can also assist your student on deciding which teachers to ask for recommendation letters to strengthen their applications.

Free scholarship aggregate websites

After seeing what resources the guidance counselor can offer, it’s time for your student to hit the web. There are many free online scholarship sites for you to do your research like Sallie Mae and FastWeb. On these sites, your child would create a profile with their academic scores, community service and volunteering, athletic and academic activities and they will be matched with scholarship applications for which they are eligible. Sallie Mae has also recently started the Paying For College Resource. The website assembles free tools, videos and checklists to keep your family updated as you all move forward in preparing for your children’s higher education. It even shows what steps to take to fill out FAFSA and how to understand your financial aid letters. also created a list for the more unusual scholarships that are available.

If your child is still a few years away from heading off to their higher education, make sure to write down the names of the scholarships that you might want to apply for at a later time, or use the list functionality that some scholarship search sites offer.

Also, be sure to apply for scholarships with smaller monetary amount. If your student earns a few of them, the scholarship total for higher education costs will grow. There also tends to be fewer applicants for these rewards.

Remember, you shouldn’t have to pay to apply for a scholarship. If an organization asks for a fee or credit card number, do not share that information with them.

Save with Ohio’s 529 Plan

Before your child starts their scholarship search, you can help them with their higher education expenses by saving in Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage. Ohio’s 529 Plan offers tax-free earnings, tax-free withdrawals for qualified costs, and a state income tax deduction for Ohioans who contribute to Ohio’s 529 Plan.

Ohio’s 529 Plan can be used nationwide for whatever comes after high school, including federally accredited trade and specialty schools, community colleges, certificate programs, four-year universities and colleges, graduate school, law school, and medical school.

Visit CollegeAdvantage online to save for your child’s future training and education. An investment in a 529 plan is an investment in your child as every dollar saved today is a dollar that doesn’t have to be borrowed later. For someday your child is going to college. Someday starts today with Ohio’s 529 Plan.

Tim Gorrell is the Executive Director of the Ohio Tuition Trust Authority. He is a native of Toronto, Ohio and received his undergraduate degree in education from The University of Akron. He holds master’s degrees in history and strategic studies from the University of Monmouth and the U.S. Army War College, respectively. He and his wife reside in Powell, Ohio and are the parents of two daughters.

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