Paying for college is a big concern for many families, but fear not: as you may have heard, there’s lots of free money out there to help you pay for college. You just need to know where to look and then make the time to go after it!

If you’re a high school junior or younger, this is the prime time for tracking down outside scholarships. Let’s get to it.

Start at Your Counseling Office

First things first — drop in or make an appointment at your high school’s counseling or guidance office to ask about local scholarships. You can also check for a directory of local awards in the guidance section of your school’s website. These awards are typically sponsored by local businesses, community foundations, or area chapters of groups like the Lions Club, Rotary International and others. Maybe your school even holds an awards ceremony in the spring where these scholarships are doled out to the senior class. Don’t miss these!

Yes, Check the Internet

By far the largest source of information about outside scholarships is, you guessed it, online. Scholarship and college search sites like FastwebCappex (one of Hope’s partners) and make it easy to find scholarships for which you might qualify. You can even filter for opportunities that match your demographic and academic background.

As with anything online, be vigilant — make sure you’re only taking the time to pursue scholarship opportunities from reputable companies and organizations. And don’t spend any money to access scholarship directories or hire a company to do the search for you, either. There are plenty of reputable (and free!) resources out there.

Now, Get to Work!

Of course, it’s not enough to simply find these outside scholarships. No, you actually have to apply for them, and this is where my best advice comes in. If you can, make searching and applying for outside scholarships your part-time job (or one of them!) during your junior and senior years.

It seems like every year there’s an inspiring story about some high school senior who applied for hundreds of outside scholarships. Sure she got turned down for most of them, but she was awarded the other 20, and they added up quickly. What if you spent 30 minutes a day working on scholarship stuff? You might be surprised at what you can earn by investing the time and showing up every day.

Getting Paid

So you’ve received some outside scholarships! That’s awesome. Most organizations will want to be in touch with your college or university of choice to find out where to send the award money. Others will write a check made out to you that you can use for books, tuition, or even a new computer for school.

Leave No Stone Unturned

And finally, make sure you’ve maximized all of the internal scholarship opportunities available at your schools of choice. Have you applied for academic scholarships? What about auditioning for an artistic award? Lastly, be sure you’ve filed for need-based aid.

So there you have it! Some quick ideas on finding outside scholarships to pay for college. As with anything, what you get out of this has much to do with the time you spend doing it. Good luck!

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