Happy National Scholarship Month! The National Scholarship Providers Association has chosen the month of November to be a time to raise awareness about scholarship opportunities for current and future college students.

Scholarships play a vital role in making college more affordable, reducing student loan debt, and expanding access to higher education. Here are some key facts provided by the NSPA:

  • In the last 10 years, the number of scholarships awarded has increased by over 45%.
  • An estimated $46 billion in grants and scholarship money is awarded annually by the U.S. Department of Education and the nation's colleges and universities.
  • An additional $7.4 billion is awarded through private scholarships and fellowships.
  • An estimated $100 million in scholarships go unawarded each year, mostly due to a lack of applicants.
  • Don’t be fooled by scholarship scams! You never have to pay a fee of any kind (e.g., a submission fee or registration fee) to apply for scholarships!

While the scholarship application process can be overwhelming, it’s important to make a plan, set clear goals, and research the scholarships of interests. Then remember: to win a scholarship, you have to first apply. So apply, apply, apply!

How Do You Find Private Scholarships?

Keep in mind that private scholarships represent a small percentage of college funding. (The average scholarship is roughly between $1,000 and $4,000.) As shown in the statistics above, most scholarships or merit aid come from the colleges and universities themselves. However, if parents would like their children to compete for outside or private scholarships, here are a few resources:

Consider Local Scholarships

When it comes to private scholarships, students face better odds if they focus on capturing local scholarships. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Look for scholarships locally because they present you with the best chance of winning.
  2. Keep in mind that they aren’t easy to find, which means that not as many students will be applying—they usually are not in your national databases.
  3. Where should you look? Charities, civic groups, community foundations, libraries, parent workplaces, local newspaper (community section), and of course high school counselors.
  4. Start early! There are some scholarships that can be applied for during the junior year.
  5. Many applications for local scholarships do not become available until spring and many winners are not announced until June. Keep applying all year long.

U.S. News & World Report has more information on how to find local scholarships.

In short, remember that the biggest source of money will almost certainly be merit scholarships from the colleges and universities. The key is targeting the most generous colleges based on a student’s academic profile and a family’s financial ability.