Scholarship America

Free money: How scholarships can offset the climbing cost of college tuition

With another school year underway, Robert C. Ballard, president and CEO of Scholarship America, shares tips to help high school seniors and their families find the college scholarships that are right for them.

‘Viewpoints’ invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Robert C. Ballard, president and CEO of Scholarship America.


The 2017-2018 school year is now underway for the 3.6 million seniors currently enrolled in high schools across the U.S. And even though school just started, now is the time for 12th graders to formulate their plans for applying for college scholarships.

CEO of Scholarship America
Robert C. Ballard is the president and CEO of Scholarship America.

For nearly 60 years, Scholarship America® has worked directly with students, parents, colleges, businesses, and communities to empower people to fulfill their college dreams.

As Scholarship America’s president and CEO, I’m proud of our role as the nation’s largest private education support organization and our legacy of distributing over $3.7 billion to more than 2.3 million students to date.

As we continue to help students and their families find the financial support they need, Scholarship America is now working to further engage the private sector — working with companies like Wells Fargo — to support programs and policies that advance equity in post-secondary education and help students overcome barriers to access and attainment.

“We know getting a college degree can be expensive, but there are many options.”

We know getting a college degree can be expensive, but there are many options — including federal and state grants, work-study funds, aid from your college, and, of course, scholarships.

But where do you start looking for scholarships? It’s a question we hear often, so I’m happy to pass along some good advice from our team at Scholarship America to help get students and their parents headed in the right direction.

Get organized

Most scholarship applications ask for a lot of the same information, so having it ready and polished before you begin applying will save a lot of time.

Start with a self-inventory. Gather basic information about yourself, your interests, and your activities. List your GPA, request a transcript from your high school, and make note of any school and community activities, leadership positions, honors and awards, work experience, volunteer service, special interests, references, and standardized test scores. Be sure to have any Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or other financial forms you might need.

Start early

Your search will probably start online with one of the many search engines, scholarship databases, or matching apps. Look within your community as well. Explore community organizations and find out what’s available through your school, church, or other organizations. With over $50 billion in scholarships granted last year alone in the United States, there is a lot of money out there. Scholarships range from ones for employees of a specific company and children of those employees, to ones for specific populations or interests.

“With over $50 billion in scholarships granted last year alone in the United States, there is a lot of money out there.”

For example, our friends at Wells Fargo have committed $2 million to fund scholarships and emergency grants that help veterans and their families successfully integrate back into civilian life, along with another $1 million to develop and implement a special scholarship program to help people with disabilities obtain the education or training necessary to succeed in the career path of their choice.

Find the scholarships that fit you

Your initial search might yield thousands of scholarship opportunities. Refine your search to find opportunities that best match your self-inventory. Have you done a ton of volunteering? Search and apply for scholarships centered on community service. Are you a straight-A student? Focus on academic scholarships.

Keep in mind the difference between merit-based and need-based scholarships. Merit-based awards are based on individual achievement without regard to a student’s financial situation. Need-based scholarships are given to students who demonstrate financial need.

Manage your time wisely

Even after you’ve narrowed down your search, you’ll probably still have dozens, or even hundreds, of scholarships you’re interested in. Create a spreadsheet or use a calendar app to track them and ensure you don’t miss deadlines. Start approaching teachers, mentors, and supervisors for references and recommendation letters. Then, when it comes time to apply, carefully review the scholarship’s eligibility requirements and award guidelines. The last thing you want to do is waste your time applying for a scholarship for which you don’t qualify.

“When it comes time to apply, carefully review the scholarship’s eligibility requirements and award guidelines.”

Once you’ve ensured you’re eligible, slow down and focus on the application at hand. Read the questions carefully and answer honestly. It’s okay to reuse essays on multiple applications, but make sure you customize them to address the specific goals of each scholarship.

When you finish, resist the temptation to immediately hit “submit.” Save the information and come back to it later, to give yourself a chance to reflect on your answers, add anything you forgot, and proofread one more time. You only have one chance to apply — make it the best you can!

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