Private Scholarships: How to Help Your Student Find Them

You’ve likely been planning for this day for years. Now, as your student heads off to college, you’re wondering how they’ll pay for it. One way is through private scholarships, or aid awarded by private entities such as foundations, organizations, companies, and individuals. There’s plenty to tap, too: each year, individuals and organizations award more than 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships worth $7.4 billion.

Although obtaining a private scholarship can take significant time and effort, success makes it well worth it in the long run, especially when integrated into a diverse financial aid package. Here’s how private scholarships fit into a financial aid package and how to help your student find them.

Types of Financial Aid

Although some students come into college with financial support from parents and jobs, most students receive financial aid from the following sources:

  • Government aid: Your federal and state governments provide two main types of financial aid that don’t need to be paid back—grants and work-study. Most grants for students are tied to their financial needs. The federal government also provides part-time work-study jobs around campus for students. The Free Application for Student Aid is the starting point to qualify for work-study.
  • Loans: Students can also take advantage of both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. They’ll have to pay the money back, but the loans usually come with generous terms, and repayment isn’t required for the first six months after graduation.
  • Institutional scholarships: Schools themselves provide scholarship opportunities.
  • Private scholarships: These are scholarships students can get from private entities (independent from the school). They can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.

Helping Your Student Find Private Scholarships

Perhaps the most difficult part of obtaining a private scholarship is finding opportunities that fit your student’s specific situation. Although it’s not your responsibility as a parent to do all the work, you can support your student in this process. Here are a few ways to help them get on the right track in the search process:

  1. Encourage them to get specific. Not all of the 1.7 million scholarship opportunities will fit your student, so it’s important that they narrow their focus. Encourage them to look at local scholarships and state-specific aid since that limits the number of competing applications. Your student’s specific area of study, ethnicity, religion, family military history, and disabilities can also help narrow down the opportunities. Recognizing your child’s other specific characteristics may give them a leg up in the search process, too.
  2. Carve out time daily to help them. Finding scholarships together can be a great opportunity to bond with your child. You’re better off doing this a little each day than in one specific block of days, as the process can be demanding, particularly as they work on application essays and organize recommendations.
  3. Help them organize. One of the most difficult parts of searching for private scholarships is keeping track of the different deadlines and requirements. This can get overwhelming for students who have a lot going on in the last year of high school. Nevertheless, encourage them to put together a planner where they can keep track of this information. You don’t want to take away opportunities for them to become responsible for themselves, but you still might want to support them in the beginning.
  4. Be a cheerleader. Your student likely won’t get every scholarship they apply for, and one rejection could dissuade them from applying for another. As a result, your support is critical during this period. Encourage your student to keep applying for more opportunities even as they miss out on certain scholarships.
  5. Remain diligent. Your experience as a parent in the job market can help your student through this process. “Cast a wide net, but be very specific about who you are as you are searching,” suggested Jon Krimmel, director of financial aid and compliance at APU. “Treat it like searching for a job.” That also means not giving up or balking at the first setback, but always pressing forward with focus and intention and following up regularly.

For more information about scholarships, see this APU-maintained list of outside scholarships and other outside aid resources.