Five things you should know about online scholarship searches and applications

There's little question that the digital age has democratized knowledge. These days, answering a question that once would have required extensive study and research may involve little more than a few clicks. Barriers to knowledge—including things like distance and expense—have in many cases been made obsolete. That's an upside to the digital age. A possible downside is that the sheer quantity of information may make it hard to digest. Information without context can be confusing.

As applied to the world of scholarships, those two facts—improved access to data is good, but we may still lack understanding—means that while it's easier than ever to find out about scholarships for which you may be eligible, your brain may reach a saturation point that keeps you from making good use of the resources available to you. This edition of AIEmail seeks to give you a little more sense of the forest rather than the trees.

  1. Applying for scholarships isn't the same thing as filling out the FAFSA.
  2. When it comes to financial aid, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is generally step one. Why? Because that one step sets you on the path to be considered for federal and state aid, including loans and work-study, as well as grants (which generally do not need to be repaid). That's all great, but it's still a good idea to do a scholarship search. Why? Because scholarships typically require you to apply for them individually (rather than fill out one overarching financial aid application). In practical terms, it's a good idea to do a search, select some scholarships for which you think you are a good match, and apply as directed.

  3. There are a number of excellent sites you can use for free.
  4. A number of the scholarship search services out there are available for a fee. You pay money, and the service will match you with scholarships for which you may be eligible. However, you probably won't want to pay for this service since you can use several excellent search sites for free. These sites have databases that are regularly updated with new scholarships and information on changes to scholarship application processes or criteria. Besides our own scholarship search engine here at AIE (, other free and available search engines include

  5. Scholarships have varied criteria.
  6. Perhaps the negative voice in your head is squelching your enthusiasm even as you're reading this, shouting out gloomy pronouncements like "But I'm not a straight-A student!" "But I'm not an outstanding athlete or artist!" Let us shine a light through the gloomy fog: scholarships have varied criteria. Ranging from unique interests to where you live to your family's background to none of the above, scholarships are available to a wide range of people, not just star athletes and exceptional scholars. It's in your interest to conduct a search and to not dismiss your chances without trying.

  7. Cutting and pasting may not be in your best interest.
  8. Filling out applications may not be your favorite activity. You may be tempted to cut and paste a lot of text from one application into another application. This is not the best idea you ever had. Why? Remember how the criteria are varied? That means that when you're applying, you could hurt your chances if you use the same answers for different scholarships provided by different donors who are looking for different things. Certainly you should never misrepresent yourself, but it is okay—advisable, in fact—to target your answers to the kinds of qualities that best show how your qualities match the given criteria.

  9. Not every scholarship is listed in every database.
  10. Some scholarships may be new and therefore may not be in every database. Some scholarship information may only be available through a college's website, or through a local civic organization or other group. Some applications may be offline only. The point here is that it's worth checking multiple sources rather than to do one search in one database. Ask your guidance counselor, college admissions staff, and teachers if they know of any scholarships that might be a good fit. A little persistence and determination may lead you to an excellent funding source in realizing your college and career dreams.