10 Things You Need to Know About Private Scholarships


Winning private college scholarships can certainly help make college more affordable, but you need to know the realities of competing for college cash. Before you start hunting for private college scholarships, here are 10 things you should know about these awards:

1. Private scholarships aren’t the biggest source of college cash.

My pet peeve about private scholarships is that people assume that they are the biggest source of college cash when they are really the puniest. The largest sources of scholarships and grants come from the federal government and the colleges themselves. About eight percent of college money comes from private scholarships.

2. Apply for local scholarships.

The competition for national private scholarships is fierce. The Coca-Cola Foundation scholarship, for instance, received 112,000 applications last year for its 250 awards, according to an article my friend Kim Clark at Money Magazine wrote this fall. This makes Coca-Cola Scholars about 25 times as selective as Stanford. Most students will experience better luck looking on a local level since there aren’t as many contestants. What you may not realize is that local scholarships usually can’t be found in the national college search engines such as those offered by FastWeb and the College Board. Local sponsors don’t want to generate an overwhelming number of applications. Ask your guidance counselor about local scholarships and also check out what your local library has. And there is always Google. Many students also don’t want to apply for scholarships that are worth less than $1,000, but their chances will often be greater.

3. Apply for scholarships that require an essay.waste basket

Students  tend to dismiss competitions requiring the submission of art, poetry, or writing, which can make the odds of winning better. The Wow Writing Workshop, an excellent resource for learning how to craft better college essays and it maintains a list of private scholarships that require an essay.

4. Know the drawbacks of college search engines.

The Money article that I mentioned earlier suggested that the value of the scholarship search engines such as Fastweb, Cappex, Scholarships.com and others are suspect. Clark recruited teenagers to test out these scholarship search engines:

  • Fastweb
  • Cappex
  • Zinch
  • College Board
  • Scholarships.com

The results were dreadful.  Learn more by reading the article: Nab More Cash for College

5. Look for Scholarships on Twitter.

twitterSearch for awards on Twitter using hashtags like #scholarships, #meritscholarships, #financialaid and #privatescholarships. You should find information about private scholarships from scholarship providers, schools, counselors and others.  Students and parents will find tweets and links about private scholarships from scholarships providers, counselors, schools and others. When you locate people who are providing valuable information about scholarships, start following them. Also check to see whom these people are following.

6. Full-ride scholarships are extremely rare.

While many parents dream that their children will receive full-ride scholarships, they should definitely not count on it. There are less than 250 private scholarships that provide enough money to pay for all college costs, according to Mark Kantrowitz, formerly the publisher of Fastweb and now the publisher of Edvisors. Among full-time college students, a mere .3 percent receive a full ride to college from any sources.

7. Scholarships can reduce your financial aid award.

If a teen wins a private scholarship, the college could shrink his or her financial aid package by the amount of the award. So if a child wins a $3,000 scholarship, the college could cut the aid package by $3,000. Why is a student penalized for winning a private scholarship? Federal rules require that a college consider outside scholarships when calculating a financial aid package. Ideally you’d want the college to reduce the loan portion of a student’s financial aid award and not grant money. Some reduce both. You need to ask schools about their policies before your child applies to college.

8. Some majors are more lucrative than others.

Students who major in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are more likely to win a scholarship, Kantrowitz says. In one survey, 23.2 percent of math/statistics majors and 17.6 percent of engineering students earned a scholarship, while only 9.5 percent of business majors won one.

9. Do some volunteer work to increase your chances.

Many scholarship providers include a requirement that recipients be engaged in volunteer activities. Sponsors would rather see a student who sticks with one volunteer activity for a long time than one who hops around to various charities.

10. Read up on private scholarships.

If you’d like to learn more about private scholarships, a handy resource  is a slim book, Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, that Mark Kantrowitz wrote. Check it out.

Bottom Line:

Because private scholarships represent such a small percentage of the available money for college, I’d urge families to dedicate more time searching for better sources of college cash.  The scholarships and grants that the colleges offer are almost always more lucrative. If teens have free time and want to devote time to hunting for private scholarships that’s fine, but their main priority should be on becoming the best students possible. This will increase their chances of winning institutional money from the colleges themselves.

Do You Want to Shrink the Cost of College?

Help is on the way!scissors Michelle Kretzschmar of Do It Yourself College Rankings and I have been working hard on developing an online class for parents  that will explain how to make college more affordable. We have designed this six-week course to help make you an empowered consumer as you navigate your child’s college choices. This class will also be extremely valuable for high school counselors and independent college consultants, who want to help their families find generous schools. Our class starts Feb. 12 and we will be sharing more details soon. If you are interested in learning more about the class, please email me (Lynn@TheCollegeSolution.com) and I will put you on the notification list. We hope to see you in February!

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  1. Great article and information. Anyone using a scholarship search service should look into ScholarshipExperts.com. It was rated the best by Forbes.com and is extremely accurate. One reason is that we have a team of researchers that update the listings on a daily basis, not annually like many other scholarship services.