YCBK 421: Students Brand Themselves In Order to Try to Get In Elite Colleges [Transcript]
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Outside Scholarships: What You Need to Know

Outside Scholarships

Higher education expenses continue to soar, and scholarships are one way students can mitigate the cost of college. While the largest scholarships typically come from colleges as a form of merit aid, outside scholarships, those not awarded by a school, can often help ease the financial burden.


The first place to look for scholarships is in your own backyard.

The best resource is your high school counselor, who will probably have a curated list of opportunities specifically for students at your high school or community. These scholarships can offer a financial boost with potentially less competition.

Also, checking with local businesses, such as banks, insurance companies, law firms, and even your parents’ employers, can uncover opportunities.

Local or regional community foundations will sponsor scholarships funded for local students.

Below are some national organizations that have local chapters that often offer scholarships:

Local scholarships are usually one-time awards at a lower amount and are typically intended for residents of a particular town, county, or state.


Below are sites that offer free access to scholarships.

Appily – formerly Cappex, provides an easy-to-use interface for students to search its extensive database for scholarships based on individual criteria.

College Board’s BigFuture – One of the most recognized names in college planning, BigFuture provides access to various scholarships. Students can filter thousands of opportunities by merit—or need-based—location, academic level, GPA, or degree level.

Fastweb – Hosts one of the largest scholarship databases. Students can search by several criteria, including demographics and academic interests. They also list discounts available to students to maximize their savings.

Going Merry – Students create a profile to match with scholarship opportunities and allow them to bulk-apply for scholarships. Even better, they’ve got an app to search and apply on the go.

JLV – Scholarship opportunities are divided into several categories. Student can search by age, hobbies, gender, majors, and monthly due dates.

LGBTQ+ Student Scholarship Database – Hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, this site provides scholarships for LGBTQ+ students and allies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Niche – this popular site provides multiple filters for students to tailor their scholarship searches. Niche also sponsors “no essay” scholarships.

Peterson’s – This site provides a wealth of resources for graduate students. It has a dedicated section for grad school funding, including fellowships and scholarships for undergraduate students.

Scholarships.com – With the ability to search by attributes like age, athletics, ethnicity, religion, and military affiliation, Scholarships.com allows students to create individual searches.

Scholarships360 – This site was started by first-generation students who were frustrated with finding ways to pay for college. It helps students locate scholarships. Students can search by grade level, interest, location, or for no-essay scholarships.

Unigo – This website offers a searchable database for scholarships for students as young as age 13. It also offers “easy” scholarships, which are easy to apply for and require no essays.


Scholarship displacement happens when a student’s need-based financial aid is reduced due to winning an outside scholarship or one that is not provided by the school.

For example, if a student wins a $1,000 external scholarship, the college may reduce their need-based aid by $1,000. So, although the student put in the effort and won a scholarship, the actual cost of college did not change.

This policy can be particularly disheartening for students who work hard to secure scholarships, expecting them to decrease their out-of-pocket college expenses. Students and families must understand a college’s policy regarding outside scholarships so there are no surprises with the final financial aid package.

States that currently ban scholarship displacement:

  • California
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

For detailed information on how your college addresses outside scholarships, contact their financial aid office for current guidance.

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