College Scholarship Money: The 7 Major Ways You Can Get A Scholarship

You’ve seen the headlines awarding college scholarship money:

Local Girl Wins National Merit Scholarship

High School Senior to Play for PAC 10


Science Fair Entrant Wins Full Ride Scholarship…

And you wonder, why not me? Why not my son or daughter? How do you win this money?

I’ve won a couple of scholarships, and had friends who won more. After doing some research and reflected on my successes, I’ve found 7 main reasons students win these awards. See which ones will benefit you, and you can stop worrying about the other ones.

Why Award A Scholarship?

Believe it or not, lots of college scholarship money goes unawarded. As you read this article, I think you’ll realize why. Foundations that award scholarships want to promote the ideals of the foundation – to remember the founder, to further research in a particular field, and so on.

Businesses that award scholarships want to give back to the community, and perhaps garner a bit of free publicity in the process. And they want a student that will be worthy of their money. In other words, won’t embarrass them, and will finish and become a contributing member of society.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Scholarships help students, and further the beliefs and legacies of the people giving the scholarship.

How do you and your situation fit?

Let’s run through the list. Look for your situation in the groups I outline below to see where you are most likely to find college scholarship money awards you could win - and there are nearly always multiple awards where you can apply and find money for college.

Major Scholarship Factors

1. Talent

You’ve probably seen this type:

A dancer goes on to a great college and a great scholarship...

A football/basketball/baseball/soccer or even a hockey player gets full ride offers from 3 universities...

You hear from a friend that her daughter the cellist has an offer from the local state university to join the college symphony with tuition paid...

These all fall into the talent category. Talent scholarships can include many types of activities, even some you haven’t thought of. Athletic scholarships of all kinds, music including voice, and dance make up the mainstay of talent scholarships.

Look at this partial list of sports/athletics scholarships:






Field hockey

Badminton (seriously, these scholarships exist)





Track and Field – and any of the individual events



Water Polo


Sprinters can win scholarships






Ice Skating

Shredders – oops, I mean Snowboarding

Biathlon (you know, shoot then ski, shoot then ski…)


Curling (look it up)



Auto Racing (believe it or not)

Equestrian sports (the horse can’t go to classes, though)


Livestock and Rodeo…

Okay, this is just the athletics list. I’m tired of making it already. I probably left out many more. I’ve even seen a billiards scholarship. Weird, right?

But these scholarships get awarded every year. To thousands of students.

You may even find scholarships for petanque, poker, bocce, and more. So far, I haven’t found a blackjack scholarship but there is a movie or roulette. None for tiddlywinks, but you should find something for shuffleboard and table tennis (ping pong). Really.

So ask yourself, do you have a talent?

If so, search for scholarships related to the talent. The less common, the more difficult to find and to win, but you can probably find a couple of places to apply.

Scholarships in Music and Dance

You can find multiple scholarships for many types of musical performance and composition. Nearly every instrument has multiple scholarship awards, but you have to apply and win.

I won’t make a list for this one right now, but start looking. Get creative. Do you know something special about your field? Perhaps you’ll find a scholarship named for a pioneer in the type of pieces you like to play, or in a special form of choreography.

Other Talents

You can find scholarships also for other talents not in athletics or the performing arts. If you speak a foreign language, you can apply for a scholarship as well, for example.

2. Grades win College Scholarship Money

In my example above, I mentioned the National Merit Scholarship, or you may have seen it called the PSAT/NMSQT. You win college scholarship money this way with grades and a great test score. Hundreds can win this every year, but spread out over the nation.

Also, the military awards college scholarship money to students for grades with a commitment to serve in the service for a few years. Depending on your field, this can be a great start to your career, since you get college paid for, a stipend, books, and a job when you finish. You will essentially earn a minor in military science for the Army scholarships, or a similar equivalent for other services.

I won a 2 year military scholarship. I had to take a couple of military classes (ROTC) to finalize the award. During that time, I decided it wasn’t for me. But the award would have been great.

When I went back to school to earn an MBA, my test score on the GMAT also earned me a 50% tuition scholarship for the term of my MBA. Nice.

But these awards don’t happen by accident. I majored in engineering in college and did well in my grades. Plus, the military has to choose from the applicants, as do all scholarship committees. I looked pretty good.

Can you do the same for a field you want to work in?

Preparing for the GMAT

When I got a scholarship for my GMAT test, I practiced day in and day out. I took two or three practice tests. I was serious, not playing around. I studied every question type and answered them until I could do well.

My final practice test, I scored a 740 out of 800 possible. I felt great. My goal was to exceed the score of the average Stanford MBA Student. At the time, the average score at Stanford on the GMAT for an MBA student was 711.

Now I wasn’t going to attend Stanford, that was just my own personal goal. I didn’t look up what score my school required to award college scholarship money, but I could have. I practiced and met my goal. It was time for the official GMAT.

The GMAT takes a few hours to take. It costs about $200. I took it once, and I scored 720. I met my goal, and proved the practice test accurate. The university offered me a 50% scholarship, and I needed it.

Don't be shy about retaking tests or using practice exams. That could be a great investment to win college scholarship money by scoring well.

Can you improve your scores?

3. The Scholarship Essay

More and more, students realize they can do well with a good essay. Understanding this process takes a bit of explanation, and I’m running long already. Look at my scholarship essay pages to learn more and excel at this phase of the application.

The college scholarship money you can win by writing a good scholarship essay may be the highest paid writing you ever do. Take some time to learn how to do it right, and then start applying.

4. Group Membership win Scholarships

Here goes another long list.

Do you see yourself in the groups below?

Left handers

Sons or Daughters of American Pioneers

African Americans, Hispanics or Latin Americans, Irish-Americans – nearly every ethnic group has at least one of these

Disabled, physically or otherwise

ADHD students

Hearing impaired

Learning impaired

Nontraditional students (typically over 25 or with children)



Career Field scholarships, such as teachers, police officers, military positions, and many more

Dependents of 9/11 victims

Dependents of firefighters and police officers killed while on duty

I could continue this list for a while.

What groups are you in? Not just clubs, though you can find college scholarship money there, too. But groups because of who you are, what you do, or what your parents do?

Once you have a few ideas, start searching for scholarships based on those groups, interests, and so on. Did you know that many clubs and employers offer scholarships to the children of their members?

You should be able to find several places to apply based just on this concept alone. If you can’t think of any groups, visit a library and look at a scholarship book, or go to the financial aid office of a local university and ask some questions.

5. Location based Scholarships

Your location offers great opportunities for scholarships.

Remember the state you live in and the university you attend. Nearly every state has grants and scholarship money for its residents. And universities have their own donors and funds for scholarships for their students for which no one else can apply.

Look at this. For one scholarship, a student must fulfill the following requirements: be a U.S. citizen; have at least one parent of Polish heritage; be a Chicago resident and a law student.

That is a small group, location dependent, and probably doesn’t get many applications.

You can download my free ebook with links to every state to look at some of the opportunities you have for state and federal grants and scholarships. Keep looking for more.

6. Scholarship Contests

In reality, every scholarship is a contest, but some foundations and businesses give away college scholarship money based on open entry criteria. For example, you can win a scholarship for wearing Duck brand duct tape to your prom if you do it creatively, send in a picture, and write a great letter to go with it.

And you can find other contests, like poetry, fiction writing, beauty contests with scholarship awards, and so on.

The Ayn Rand Institute awards a scholarship for a good essay about the principles the author represented in her writings.

The American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) offers a 10 question open-book multiple-choice test. For each correct answer, you get entered into a drawing for a scholarship of $2,000, and the AFSA awards ten scholarships. Not bad. No essay. No group to join. All random except your test answers.

And this is just 2 from the letter A. You can enter scholarship contests all day long early in the year. Some, like AFSA, don’t require much work at all but offer a large cash award to help you pay for tuition.

7. Need-Based Scholarships

Most of the time, these are called grants, but many use the term scholarship. Don’t run just because of that word. Some scholarships go to students who have done their best and still only get mediocre grades and need help. Some state programs fill this role. Some organizations help underfunded students who wouldn’t have much of a chance without this type of college scholarship money.

Typically, you have to prove that you need the money and that you do well in your studies, meaning you will finish your degree.

These tend to come from the state, the university, or even a career organization that sees the need to help students in their field, such as the National Medical Fellowship.

To find these, try searching for need-based scholarships, and you can add in the name of your university, your state, your field, or another qualifying word or two.

Finding College Scholarship Money

It sounds daunting to find money. I wrote the breakdown above to help you separate out how you can apply. If you don’t have enough money for college in grants, scholarships, work or whatever, you can start with whichever category you want.

Just start applying for contests if that’s all you can do now. The most critical thing: start applying, and keep applying.

You can do it, college scholarship money can help.

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