Scholarships 101: How to Get a College Scholarship

If you’re heading to college for the first time, you’re probably curious about how to get a scholarship. Given the high price tag that often accompanies admission into a college or university, it’s a good idea to research your options for financial aid. Many students mistakenly believe that federal financial aid and student loans are the only available options. Though filing your FAFSA forms to apply for need-based financial aid like work study and grants is indeed important, merit-based scholarships can make your college experience even more affordable. 

Scholarships offer aid that doesn’t need to be repaid – that’s their major advantage over traditional financial aid like loans. If you’re hoping to graduate with as little student debt as possible, follow our tips for how to get a scholarship for college.

Where to Find College Scholarships in California

There are no shortage of California college scholarships, but it can often be challenging to differentiate them from scams. With so many websites and organizations out there, it can be difficult to know when a scholarship is real and legitimate from the thousands of scams trying to steal your identity and money. 

That being said, we recommend starting the scholarship search by connecting with your high school counselor or college’s financial aid office. They have a wealth of information about scholarship opportunities and resources. They can provide you with safe scholarship databases and links to use. You can go to your school’s website to see if there is a webpage dedicated to scholarships. It is usually found under the “Academics” or “Counseling” section of a high school website or “Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships” of a college website.

To look for more opportunities, ask about scholarships through your school clubs, community organizations, local churches, local businesses, local foundations, your job, or your parents’ jobs. There are some scholarship applications that are only accepted by mail and not available online. Seems unbelievable to you in this day and age, right?  So don’t overlook and skip out on these opportunities. One suggestion is to visit your local public library to ask about different scholarship applications available. 

As a last resort, If you want to independently search online for scholarships on scholarship databases, remember that you should be able to find that same scholarship and application on multiple websites. If you don’t, you may have to further investigate the credibility of the scholarship.  Additionally, many of these databases award scholarships through random drawings and are more competitive, since they are used by students all over the country. Here are some recommended databases:

Of course, if you are a Reality Changers student or graduate, you can connect with your Academy Coach or the Alumni Network to ask about scholarship opportunities. Our team knows about some options that are only available Reality Changers students and graduates!

What Not to Do When Applying for Scholarships

While most scholarship programs are created by people who simply want to help the next generation follow their educational dreams, there are a number of scammers out there, too. As you search for scholarship opportunities, be sure that the websites you’re visiting are legitimate. Understanding where to find college scholarships often boils down to asking if something is too good to be true. If you have any suspicions about an opportunity that seems just a little too good to be true, check with your counselor.

DO NOT pay for scholarships or “membership” to scholarship databases. You never, ever, need to pay for a scholarship application fee. Free means free. DO NOT share your Social Security number, bank/debit card number, or credit card information. This information allows scammers to easily steal from you.

When to Apply to Scholarships in California

After learning how to get a scholarship for college, you’re likely eager to take action and start applying. The reality is that there’s no ideal time to apply – each scholarship will come with its own deadline to follow. Generally speaking, though, it’s best to start searching for scholarship opportunities about a year before you are going to need the money. . If you’re a high school senior, the time to start applying is now. 

Of course, scholarship opportunities extend far beyond the lead-up to your freshman year. In fact, many scholarships are open to all college students. Sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students can benefit from scholarships in the same way rising freshmen can. Generally speaking, spring tends to be scholarship “high season,” so be ready to spend March, April, and May filling out and submitting applications.

Seize Scholarship Opportunities

With so many academic scholarships in California to choose from, there are endless opportunities to earn money for college. Start early – don’t just look for scholarships, work to build up your resume and experiences that will make you the ideal applicant. Be strategic in your hunt for opportunities, prioritize the ones you’re most likely to find success with; this helps ensure you’re not overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications. Finally, keep searching each year to maximize the scholarships you receive. A little effort each year can greatly reduce the financial cost of your education, leaving you with fewer student loans on graduation day.

Reality Changers Helps with Scholarships

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, as well as how to fill out financial aid paperwork, and how to minimize student loan debt.


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