Scholarships for Everyone

By Patricia Gorden Neill - April 23rd, 2013

Ignore, for the moment, that the word scholar comes from the Latin word for school, scola, or that the word scholar means learned or erudite. Forget all that for now, because not all scholarships go to those with great grades, test scores and class rank. Those numbers do not mean much to some folks who award scholarships to duck callers, Klingon speakers, enologists, greeting card writers and duck tape couture designers, among a variety of others even more notorious. If you’re a gifted student, great, there are a lot of scholarships to apply for. If you’re not, however, don’t give up. There’s still scads of money available in scholarships that do not require effort of the scholarly type.

One word to the wise, you don’t have to pay for a scholarship search. Some late night searching through scholarship databases can lead you to the scholarship that is perfect for you. Free scholarship search Web sites are available, including FastWeb, College Board’s Fund Finder, CollegeData, ScholarshipExperts and Peterson’s Award Database. Do the searches yourself and learn about the wide, and sometimes wacky, world of scholarships.

If you are new to the scholarship world, you’ll be surprised by the sheer variety and number of scholarships, traditional and otherwise. Besides the usual perfect GPA and test score variety, scholarships are awarded for athletic ability, performance arts, religious background, ethnicity, foreign language and geographic location. The more unusual scholarships award money to the very tall, the very short, asthma patients, the blind, water skiers, Hindu business students, talented marble players, gardeners, taxidermists, nudists, debaters, bowlers and Catholic folks with the last name of Zolp.

How to Look for Scholarships

Searching for scholarships can take up a great deal of time, so start early in your junior or even sophomore year. Begin by looking for local scholarships, ones associated with your high school or home town. It could be the local Rotary Club has scholarships, or some of the town’s churches or area businesses. Look local before you look nationally, since national brand name scholarships are likely to be highly competitive. Another place to look is at the colleges you’re thinking about attending. Many colleges have their own scholarships, although most of these are academic in nature and will require certain GPAs, test scores and class rank. Once you’ve searched for local and regional scholarships, then turn your attention to the scholarship databases available on the Internet.

How to Find Traditional and Unusual Scholarships

First, consider yourself and all the things that go into making you who you are. List everything about yourself that you can think of, your memberships, heritage, hobbies, languages, ethnicity, physical characteristics, sports, interests, hometown, jobs and careers you’re considering. Then make a list for your parents, their interests, hobbies, employers, memberships, military service and colleges attended. You may luck out and get a scholarship based on their background as well.

Once you have your lists for yourself and your parents, start looking around the scholarship databases. Enter your characteristics, GPA, gender, interests and hobbies and see what pops up. It could take some searching to find all the scholarships that you might have a shot at, but keep looking. Every year, billions of dollars in scholarships are awarded to a huge variety of students based on usual and unusual criteria. Unless you look and apply, you might not find any of that free money. Consider this part of your job in helping to pay your college expenses, your contribution to the cause.

Keep in mind that besides scholarships, many colleges also give out award money for accomplishments such as best poem, essay, book, story, song, musical composition or performance. Look for scholarship contests and enter with your best shot.

If you have writing talent and can put together a good essay, you’ll love the world of scholarships, as many do call for an essay as part of the application. However, many scholarships don’t require essays, so don’t let that stop you. You’ll find scholarships awarded for creative media, illustrations, poems, greeting card pictures, giving speeches about beef, dancing videos, foreign languages, vegetarians, budding wine fanciers and paganism.

Whether these awards are $200, $2,000, $10,000 or $40,000, it all adds up to providing money toward your college education. You won’t know what’s out there until you look.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.