How Scholarships Work

Searching for Scholarships

One of the most difficult aspects of obtaining scholarships is that it's hard to find a way to track them down. It's all well and good if a benevolent billionaire is offering up a fully paid scholarship to a talented young bagpipe player and you just happen to be the fastest bagpiper west of the Mississippi, but how are you supposed to know about it?

You learn about most scholarships the same way that humans have been finding out information since the Stone Age -- by asking around. It's crude, it's blunt and it takes a little bit of effort, but walking up to a guidance counselor or coach and saying, "Hey, do you know anybody who'll give me some money for college?" works much better than waiting by the window with fingers crossed, hoping that billionaire bagpipe lover comes knocking on the door. Guidance counselors and coaches will also know more about local scholarships, the kind that are either too small or too specific to show up in financial aid handbooks or online.

Finally, scholarship-seekers can never go wrong with the Internet, and there are a few highly reliable free search sites for tracking down scholarship material:

  • The College Board -- Perhaps best known for administering the SAT, The College Board is a nonprofit organization with a search that accesses more than 2,300 sources of funding worth a total of $3 billion.
  • FastWeb -- Operated by, FastWeb offers a free scholarship search in exchange for contact information.
  • MACH25 -- MACH25 is a free search engine that matches scholarships with user profiles.
  • Paco Tomei's Scholarship List -- A bare-bones Web site and LISTSERV, Paco Tomei's Scholarship List collects upcoming fellowship and grant opportunities for students of all academic levels.

One thing that all scholarship searchers have to be on the lookout for is fake scholarships. With so much on the line, it's fairly easy to come up with a scam to lure trusting or desperate parents and students. Be wary of any organization or scholarship search service that guarantees acceptance, lacks sufficient contact information or requires suspicious fees. Awards organizations are trying to give away money, not the other way around, and it's all too easy to offer a paltry $500 scholarship in exchange for hundreds of $50 application fees.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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  • Leider, Anna and Robert. "Don't Miss Out: The Ambitious Student's Guide to Financial Aid." Octameron Associates. 2005.
  • "The Merrill Lynch Scholarship." Gear Up Chicago. 2009. (Dec. 28, 2009).
  • Nitardy, Nancy. "Get Paid to Play: Every Student Athlete's Guide to Over $1 Million in College Scholarships." Kaplan Publishing. 2007.
  • Peterson's College Money Handbook. Nelnet. 2008.
  • Title IX Info. "Athletics." 2009. (Dec. 20, 2009).