College Plan Timeline:


Scholarship scams exist. Watch out for websites with flashing lights and scholarships that sound too good to be true.

Millions of dollars in scholarships goes unclaimed every year. Start your quest for free money for college.

If someone said you could get free money for college, would you turn them down?

Of course not.

Well, you CAN get free money for college. It just takes a little time and effort on your part.

Intro to Scholarships

We’ve touched on the scholarship basics but it’s important to remind you that scholarships are different than loans. And loans and scholarships all fit under the umbrella of “financial aid” but aren’t interchangeable. You have to repay loans, scholarships provide money that you don’t have to pay back.

But of course, there will be stiff competition when it comes to winning this free cash for college. American higher education has never been more expensive, so millions of students just like you are trying to get their hands on scholarship money.

Before you start your first scholarship search, keep in mind these key points:

  • Scholarships are usually merit-based (recipients are chosen by talent or skill), and grants are usually need-based (recipients are chosen by living situation or financial circumstances), but in today’s college environment they’re basically the same thing.
  • Competition among scholarships that divvy out big money is high, so never count out the smaller awards. They can add up.
  • It’s worth repeating: millions of dollars go unclaimed each year. Don’t stop searching until you get your share.

Your First Scholarship Search

You’ll fill out most of your scholarship applications when you’re a senior but your junior year is an excellent time to get familiar with local scholarships and the scholarship application process in general.

Step 1: Pop by your guidance counselor’s office for information on local scholarships and any tips she might have for eager, scholarship-seeking youth like yourself. Pick up any application forms she has on hand.

Step 2: Get acquainted with the scholarship application form. Look at one of the applications you picked up from your counselor. What will you need to apply? Make special notes of where you can find the scholarship’s important information – most notably eligibility requirements, award amount, and scholarship deadlines.

Step 3: Save all the scholarships that look intriguing.

Step 4: Separate your scholarship applications into two piles:

  • Scholarships that need action now
  • Scholarships that need action later

Step 5: File those that need action later in your college preparation organization system. For those that need action now, get to work!

Some of the scholarships you find are going to be a pain to apply for. They might require essays, questionnaires, or letters of recommendation. Don’t let this stop you; think of scholarship applications as your part-time job. And it might keep you from needing one in college.

Planning ahead or a little behind?
There's a section for you!

Related Tools and Checklists

High School Junior Timeline and Checklist
High School Senior Timeline and Checklist

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

How to Find Scholarships
How to Apply for Scholarships
Beware of Scholarship Scams
See All College Scholarships and Grants for Education Articles


Visit Our Student Center

Get on track!

Visit our Student Center

And find out everything you need to know about planning for college.