How to Find and Secure Scholarships and Grants for Your Child

Are you a parent worried about the financial strain of sending your child to college? Scholarships and grants can provide valuable sources of free money to help ease the burden. While students play a significant role in the application process, parents also have an important part to play.

In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about scholarships and grants, including the difference between the two, how to find them, and tips for maximizing your chances of success.

Understand Scholarships Vs. Grants

It’s essential to understand the distinction between scholarships and grants. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent different forms of financial aid.

Scholarships are awarded based on merit, where applicants are evaluated on specific criteria such as skills, achievements, or aptitude. The awards are given to those deemed most deserving, making the competition stiff. It’s hard to predict which approach will increase your chances of winning a scholarship, as there is no concrete formula for success.

On the other hand, grants are need-based. These funds are awarded in a more predictable and mathematical manner. Applicants provide their financial information, and awards are determined based on a complex set of calculations that measure a family’s financial need. Lower-income families typically have a greater chance of receiving college grants, whereas those with a substantial income may be ineligible.

Watch the Deadlines for Grants

When it comes to securing grant money, applying early is crucial. Federal, state, and school aid is usually awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if your application demonstrates eligibility for a significant amount of aid, there’s no guarantee that you will receive that exact sum of money.

Therefore, instead of waiting until the final due date for the FAFSA®, submit your paperwork as soon as possible. By getting your grant applications in early, you position yourself at the top of the list for need-based college funds if you qualify.

Launch Your Scholarship Search Early

Scholarships are available to all students, regardless of their income level. If your family’s income exceeds the threshold for grants, focusing on a scholarship search is highly recommended. However, the scholarship application process differs from grants and often begins much earlier. Some scholarships accept applications from high school sophomores and juniors. To ensure you don’t miss out on potential free money, start your search early.

Since scholarships are based on a student’s merit, it is wise to build a portfolio of merit-based awards, accolades, and achievements as soon as your child enters high school. Save outstanding high school essays, as they may be repurposed for certain scholarships. If your student is involved in the arts, maintaining a portfolio of their work will provide premium samples to submit for talent-based scholarships in that field. Additionally, obtaining letters of recommendation and seeking mentions in major publications can enhance your portfolio and increase your chances of success.

Start Your Search Locally

National scholarships have a lot of competition. The smaller the pool of qualifying applicants, the better your chances of getting the award. Start your search with local groups and organizations that may offer scholarships for your child. Ask about scholarships available from:

  • Your place of work – Many companies have scholarship funds for the students of their employees
  • Your child’s place of work – If your child has a job, he or she may have access to employee scholarships
  • Your child’s high school – The high school itself may offer a scholarship, or it may connect you with other local opportunities you’ve overlooked
  • Hometown organizations – Local businesses, clubs, and organizations, such as the Freemasons may offer scholarships both to members and the public
  • Religious organizations – Churches and other religious groups often maintain scholarship funds

Find Out What the College Offers

Check with your child’s future college and find out what scholarships are available. Keep in mind that school-wide scholarships aren’t the only option. Ask the financial aid office which departments maintain their own scholarship funds, and where the largest pools are. You may find fresh opportunities available within a particular area of study when you dig a little deeper. Campus organizations that are run independently of the school may have scholarships as well.

Ask about merit-based scholarship opportunities both for freshman and upperclassmen. Though you may only be worried about that first year of schooling right now, you’ll want to keep this information on hand for the future. Many students fail to keep up with the scholarship application process once they’re enrolled in school. However, there are several opportunities for upperclassmen to get merit awards throughout their college career.

Seek Major-Specific Scholarships

If your child has already declared a major, focusing on scholarships specific to their area of study can yield better results. The number of applicants for local journalism scholarships, for example, will typically be smaller than for statewide scholarships available to all college students.

Don’t underestimate any offerings, regardless of your student’s experience or expertise. It’s surprising how even a single year working for the school newspaper can help secure additional scholarship money.

Explore Your Niche

Niche scholarships often have a smaller pool of applicants since they have specific requirements or criteria. Take the time to consider the demographic niches that you and your child might fit into. This could include exploring your heritage, ethnicity, religious background, or even unique life experiences.

Scholarships can be found for survivors of crime, victims of domestic violence abuse, cancer survivors, veterans with PTSD, students with disabilities, and those living with mental illness. Through exploring the hardships your student has faced and how they have persevered, you may uncover scholarships that reward their resilience and courage.


The search for college financial aid is an ongoing process that should continue until your student’s final year of university. By staying proactive and utilizing various resources, you can maximize your chances of finding the right scholarships and grants for your child. Start early, understand the differences between scholarships and grants, and take advantage of local and niche opportunities.

With determination and thoughtful planning, you can help fund your student’s educational journey and alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with college. Remember, every bit of free money counts!

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