Scholarships 101: How to Get a College Scholarship

College scholarships are a great way to pay for your education. Given the rising college tuition rates, it’s wise to research financial aid. Many students mistakenly believe that student loans and financial aid their school offers are the only options. While filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help you become eligible for need-based financial aid and grants, merit-based scholarships and other scholarships can go a long way to making school affordable.

Unlike student loans, college scholarships don’t need to be repaid. If your goal is to graduate with as little debt as possible, it pays to apply for scholarships!


Scholarships for college students are financial awards to help them pursue their education. They are typically awarded based on financial need, academic achievement, athletic ability, artistic talent, life experience, or community involvement. Unlike student loans, scholarships don’t need to be repaid, making them a valuable resource for students.

Scholarships can come from a range of sources, including educational institutions, private organizations, businesses, government agencies, individuals, and foundations. They typically cover a portion of tuition, fees, books, and even some living expenses.


The types of scholarships available to students are incredibly diverse. Merit-based scholarships are perhaps the most common. They reward academic excellence and are often based on GPA or standardized test scores. Need-based scholarships factor in financial circumstances. They typically award students from low-income families.

Athletic scholarships are given to talented athletes to support their participation in collegiate sports. Talent-based scholarships recognize students skilled in music, art, or theater. There are minority scholarships that aim to increase diversity in higher education by supporting underrepresented groups. There are college scholarships for specific fields of study, veterans, first-generation college students, and international students.


Knowing where to start when looking for a college scholarship can be hard. It can be challenging to differentiate real opportunities from scams. Some are real; others are trying to steal your identity and money. It’s wise to begin your search with the help of your high school counselor, college’s financial aid office, or Reality Changers Achievement Coach. They have no shortage of information about legitimate scholarships for which to apply. Visit your school’s website to look for a database dedicated to scholarships. They’re often found under the academics or counseling section of high school sites or via the Office of Financial Aid on a college site.

As you venture further into your search, ask about scholarships offered through school clubs, community organizations, local businesses, your job, or your parents’ place of work. Some scholarships are only accepted via mail and may not be listed online. While that seems out of touch today, these hidden gem scholarships are still worth pursuing. You can even ask your local librarian for guidance on available scholarships.

Online searches for college scholarships can be helpful, but be careful about giving your information to just anyone. Look to see if you can find the same scholarship and application across multiple websites. If you can’t find mention of a specific scholarship in more than one place, you may need to question the credibility of the opportunity. Many databases award scholarships through random drawings and are used by students nationwide.

Here are some recommended databases:

The Reality Changers Alumni Network and Academy Coaches are excellent resources for college scholarship support. We know about some great opportunities only available to Reality Changers students and graduates.


So, how do you get scholarships for college, exactly? You apply, of course! Once you’ve done the legwork to find legitimate scholarships, start by determining your eligibility. Criteria may include academic achievement, financial need, extracurricular involvement, and demographic factors. So long as you meet their standards, you can move on to the next phase of the application process.

No two scholarships are precisely alike, but most will require you to submit documents to verify your eligibility. Gather your school transcripts, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, resumes, and essays. Then, tailor your application materials to each scholarship’s specific requirements.

Many scholarships require applicants to submit essays or personal statements. Take the time to craft compelling essays that highlight your achievements, goals, and why you deserve the scholarship. Ensure you follow all instructions provided by the scholarship providers. This includes formatting guidelines, submission methods, and any additional requirements. Rather than sending the same essays and personal statements in each application, make sure that your applications are uniquely tailored to each opportunity.

Before submitting your applications, carefully proofread all materials to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Ask a teacher, counselor, or mentor to review your application for feedback. Pay attention to deadlines and submit applications before the due date to avoid last-minute stress.

After submitting your applications, follow up with scholarship providers if necessary. If you’re selected as a finalist, be prepared for interviews or additional documentation requests.


As you apply for college scholarships, it’s important to be on the lookout for scams. While the majority of scholarship programs are created by those eager to help students follow their dreams, scammers abound. Take time to ensure the websites you’re visiting are legitimate. Knowing where to find scholarship opportunities often comes down to asking whether something seems too good to be true. Don’t hesitate to ask your counselor if you have any doubts.

Avoid paying for scholarships or membership to scholarship databases. You never need to pay for a scholarship application fee. Free means free – don’t share your social security number, bank information, or credit card details. This information is what scammers are looking for when trying to steal from you.


Once you’ve learned how to get scholarships for college, you may be eager to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each scholarship comes with its deadline. While there’s no ideal time to apply, start looking for scholarship opportunities about a year before you need tuition money is a good idea. High school seniors should start applying as soon as possible.

Scholarship opportunities don’t end after the first year of college. Indeed, many scholarships are open to college students at large. Sophomores, juniors, seniors, and even graduate students may benefit from such opportunities just as rising freshmen can.


Take a strategic approach to scholarship applications. While applying for as many as possible may be tempting, it’s wise to work smarter, not harder. Be honest about the work involved for each opportunity and reflect on how much time you dedicate to each. It helps to look for niche scholarships that align with your interests, background, or talents. These scholarships may have less competition and offer better chances of winning.

Scholarships for college students require careful preparation. Keep track of deadlines, application requirements, and correspondence with scholarship providers. Use tools like spreadsheets or calendars to stay organized throughout the application process. Apply widely and get discouraged by rejections. Keep applying for scholarships and explore multiple opportunities to maximize your chances of success.


If you are a San Diego high school student looking to take advantage of California college scholarships, consider applying to join Reality Changers. Your coach will show you how to apply for and win scholarships, fill out financial aid paperwork, and minimize student loan debt.


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