Finding Free Money

Fact: money does not come from trees. But it can – and frequently does – come from scholarships. And while the last thing you probably want to do, after writing a dozen soul-sucking college essays, is write a dozen more soul-sucking scholarship essays – this is far from the time to give in. There is free money just waiting to be claimed, and it’s not as intimidatingly difficult to find as it looks.

There are thousands upon thousands of scholarships out there – and they pretty much cover every topic that there is to be covered. (Jif gives away $25,000 to whoever makes “the most creative sandwich” … yes, you did read that dollar amount correctly.)

To remedy every high school student’s kryptonite of there being only 24 hours in a day…


… here are some key tips on deciding which scholarships you are best off applying for:

1. Look Local

More often than not, there is a large number of scholarships available within your city, and sometimes even within your school. You’re best bet is to seek those out first, be it by asking your counselor or even researching local businesses. While they will almost never be close to offering the $25,000 that Jif has at its disposal, these scholarships will have a ridiculously smaller applicant pool than any nation-wide contest, increasing your odds significantly.

2. Know Your Niches

Go in ahead of time with an honest, mental list of what scholarship criteria best fit you. If you know that you won’t qualify for anything need-based, look towards the scholarships focused primarily on merit. If you are committed to community service, prioritize the organizations that are particularly seeking that quality. Most scholarship websites are pretty clear about their standards, from GPA to ethnicity, gender, field of study… the list goes on. As a general rule of thumb: if you are having to stretch or exaggerate the facts to make yourself fit better as a candidate, it’s probably going to be in your best interest to find a different match.  Just keep thinking:


3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce the chaos by organizing the scholarships you are interested in applying for. Make a chart. Use a planner. Whatever works best for you, so long as it consolidates the information. By having one database, you’ll be able to keep track of deadlines and further sort the premium scholarships from the “Well, maybe I’ll get lucky” scholarships.

One of the added benefits is that, chances are, you’ll see similarities in the types of information being requested. Extracurriculars, work and volunteer experience, awards and honors. Copy and paste will be your new best friends – don’t shy away from reusing the phrasing from your previous applications.

Lastly, save yourself a lot of time and effort by recycling essays. Think of it as salvaging parts. You will probably have to make a few changes to the original, depending on the exact wording of the other prompts, but tweaking a former essay to align with three prompts is far easier than writing three new essays from scratch.


Scholarships can seem like a lot, especially after being put through the many breakdowns that accompany the college applications process. Just remember that a couple more hours of your time can really wind up paying off. And if the odds don’t end up in your favor, at least you can say that you’ve made the effort. From here on out, it’s all icing on the cake.

Looking for more information about financial aid? We’ve got you covered:

  • The Ins and Outs of Financial Aid
    • Don’t know the difference between FAFSA, CSS, Cal Grants, Merit-based Scholarships, and Institution-specific financial aid? Start here.
    • Private colleges can be cheaper than public universities. Whaat. Read on to learn how.


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  • Elise Gout

    Elise writes articles for the Magoosh SAT blog to help teenagers during an exciting time in their lives. Despite residing in Southern California, where she attends San Dieguito Academy high school, she has no surfing abilities whatsoever; it’s actually rather sad. She is your typical senior high school girl who sword fights daily, and is pretty much convinced that bananas are a food sent from heaven. Elise will attend Columbia University next fall to study environmental science.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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