Like most prospective college and university students today, you’re probably on the hunt for funding for your education. You don’t want to finish your degree, just to find that you’ll be paying off a mountain of student loan debt for the next 20 (or more!) years.

Unfortunately, while your parents and grandparents might have been able to pay their way through college with part-time jobs or working full-time over the summer, that’s just not the case anymore. With tuition rates as high as they are these days, even if your parents have been saving for your entire life, you are still likely to need some assistance.

How can you get financial aid without getting weighed down with student loans that you’ll have to start paying back just months after you graduate? Merit-based scholarships and need-based grants are available to help students achieve your dreams and goals; you just have to find them. To do that, you have to know how to find scholarships.

Apply for Federal Grants

First of all, most scholarships and grants will require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA). This will let you know whether or not you are eligible for governmental grants that are based on financial need (such as the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant or Pell grant). It will also set you up for applying for a number of other grants and scholarships. Your FAFSA will be sent to the colleges you’re applying to, as well as to the federal government.

How To Find the Right Scholarships for College?

Talk To Your College or University’s Financial Aid Office

Whether or not you are eligible for any need-based grants through your college, you may be a good candidate for a scholarship. Your college or university’s financial aid office is there to assist you in finding funding opportunities. They can point you in the direction of any school-funded scholarships that you might be a good candidate for.

If you have found a scholarship opportunity that looks promising, you may want to bring it up to someone in your school’s financial aid office. They’ll be able to tell you if the scholarship in question could apply to you, your school, and/or your major. They’ll also be able to pick out scams that you may have missed. It can’t hurt to bring your concerns about a potential outside scholarship opportunity to your college’s financial aid office or to your guidance counselor at your high school. They are experienced in finding scholarships for students, and they know what to look for to identify a scam.

Think About What Sets You Apart

Before you dive right into your scholarship hunt, let’s talk about how you can narrow your search. You don’t want to sift through hundreds (or even thousands) of scholarships that don’t apply to you just to find a few that you might be eligible for. That’s a huge waste of time, and it won’t help you find funding for your college education.

Sit down with a pen and paper and start brainstorming. What sets you apart from other students? Have you demonstrated exceptional leadership skills? Do you excel at a topic or field of study, and can you demonstrate why you should be sponsored to continue in this field? Are you representative of an underrepresented minority in your school or major? Are you a student athlete? Do you have any other extracurricular activities that set you apart?

Make a list of all of these things, and you’ll have a list of qualifications for scholarships. In the next step of how to find scholarships, we will discuss how to use this list in your search.

Start Your Search Online

In the old days, if you were searching for scholarships, you would have had to go to the library or buy a catalog of scholarships from the bookstore. Today, thousands of scholarships are at your fingertips if you know where to look for them. The best databases to search include:

  • CareerInfoNet.org – The US Department of Labor has a conveniently searchable database of scholarships for colleges and universities all over the country.
  • ScholarshipChart.com – This site is especially useful if you’re still having trouble deciding on which colleges to apply to. You can actually search for scholarships and for schools and programs that interest you, too.

When you sit down to search through these sites, get the list of attributes and qualifications that you just brainstormed out. Use keywords from this list to search for scholarships that apply to you. Some keywords that are almost guaranteed to come up with some great scholarships include, but are not limited to:

Use keywords by themselves, and then try combining them to see if you come up with any more interesting scholarships. As you search, always beware of the information you give out. Scam sites (not the ones listed here) will ask for your credit card information, your social security number, and other sensitive information. They’ll also do things like “guarantee” you a scholarship “or your money back.” Don’t fall for these. If you’re suspicious, ask your counselor or someone at the financial aid office at your college.

Search and Apply for Scholarships on ScholarshipChart.com

ScholarshipChart.com helps students and parents search and apply for scholarships, grants, awards and other financial aid options to help pay for college. Whether you are a high school senior starting college or a single mom going back to school, you can find money for college through ScholarshipChart.com.