The cost of college is daunting, opaque, and often hidden behind a plethora of links, webpages, or downloadable PDFs. Even if you manage to find the accurate and transparent cost of attending any given college, the next obstacle is figuring out how to pay for it. Scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study are all terms thrown around in the mad dash for families to make a college education financially feasible. While there are hundreds of thousands of scholarship opportunities on the internet, the most reliable, impactful, and realistic opportunities often come from the colleges themselves. This post is going to give you a step-by-step guide on how to locate institutional scholarships on a school’s website, along with some helpful tips about what to look for when you do find the scholarship page. We are going to be looking at Elon University in North Carolina as an example.
How to Find Information About Scholarships on College Websites
Step 1: Google “[INSERT COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY NAME] Scholarships”
Now I know what many of you are probably thinking, but you would be shocked by how few families and students don’t even know how to begin with this first step. Many people think that there is some secret formula to finding scholarship information or that you have to have some inside knowledge to navigate through the convoluted messes that are college websites.
Here’s a secret: you don’t need to navigate a college website to find the information you are looking for. By googling the school name followed by “scholarships”, Google will automatically do the navigating for you. As you’ll see in Step 2, the results will direct you to the most relevant and helpful webpages based on your query.
Step 2: Review The Search Results
So we’ve googled our chosen college to find their scholarships. You will most likely see a results screen very similar to the one above. Let’s run down what we have and explore the best lead:
- An ad for undergraduate scholarships at St. Thomas University.
- This would be great if we were looking for “St. Thomas University scholarships” but we aren’t.
- Merit-based Scholarships – Admissions – Elon University
- This looks very promising. Scholarship ✔ Admissions ✔ Elon University ✔
- There are two things to note here with this result:
- The page specifically says “Merit-based Scholarships”, so if you’re looking for Need-based (Grants/Loans) or Talent-based (e.g. Theater, Dance, Music, etc.), then you might need to do a little more navigation on the website.
- The link also says “Admissions.” For this scenario, we are looking for Undergraduate Admissions, but be aware of this nuance if you’re looking for Graduate scholarships.
- Scholarships – Undergraduate Admissions – Elon University
- Scholarships ✔ Undergraduate Admissions ✔ Elon University ✔
- Between results #2 and #3, there’s a good chance we’re going to get to the webpage that we are looking for. This result is probably our best bet since it is specifically covering all scholarships available for undergraduate admissions (as opposed to “Merit-based” for “Admissions”).
- ELON UNIVERSITY – scholarships & financial aid
- At face value, this looks like it might be a viable link to pursue, but there are a few things that tend to signal a problematic link: the inconsistent capitalization, the URL has “images” and “e-web”, and it is tagged as a PDF. With colleges and universities making larger updates during each admissions cycle, and smaller updates all throughout the year, it can be very difficult to keep images or PDFs up to date. More often than not, this will be an old resource, so make sure to look at the dates if available.
Step 3: Explore The College Website
For the sake of this guide, I clicked through the three non-ad Google results and here’s what we found:
- Result 1 was an ad.
- Result 2 took us to the appropriate page for merit-based scholarships. You can even see where result 2’s webpage is in the image beneath “Scholarships.”
- Result 3 led us to the image above which gives the easiest access to all possible scholarship categories.
- Result 4 was a scholarship and financial aid PDF from the 2008-2009 recruitment year.
- As a fun aside, the tuition, fees, room, and board for an out-of-state student in ’08-’09 was $31,847. The ’21-’22 prices are $45,318 total. This is a $13,471 increase over ~13 years, meaning an average yearly increase of $1,036.23, or an average percentage increase ranging between 2.2% – 3.3%. To be clear, it is quite common to see the costs of colleges and universities increase between 2-4% each year.
- Merit-based Scholarships: Awarded based on a student’s performance in high school.
- Merit-based scholarship awards can be based on grades, test scores, essays, extracurriculars, or any other number of factors relating to the student’s application. Many colleges are making it commonplace to automatically consider prospective students for merit-based aid during their application review.
- Talent-based Scholarships: Awarded to students with a particular skill or talent.
- Talent-based scholarships often include programs such as acting, music, theater, film, athletics (if Division 1 or 2), and others. Typically, these scholarships are going to have a separate application or require some form of an audition/portfolio to showcase a student’s proficiency in their talent.
- Exceptional Need- and Merit-based Scholarships:
- The verbiage of this category is not very common and speaks to a specific Elon program.
- Need-based Scholarships: Awarded to students demonstrating financial need through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile).
- The most common forms of need-based aid are grants and loans. Grants are financial aid awarded to students with no requirement to be repaid (e.g. Federal Pell Grants). Loans are a form of financial aid that provide the student funds in exchange for repayment at a later date (e.g. Federal Subsidized or Unsubsidized Stafford Loans).
- Most need-based aid is provided at the federal or state level, but some schools do offer need-based grants through their own institution (Elon is one of them).
Important Financial Aid Questions to Answer
Unfortunately, finding scholarship information on a college website is only part of the battle. A student or family could spend all day on a college’s financial aid webpage, but unless they know what to look for, they’ll be wasting a lot of time. Here are a few phrases, words, or ideas to keep an eye out for when doing your research:
- Is a student being automatically considered for merit-based scholarships via the application for admission?
- Is a school test-optional for both admission and financial aid?
- What financial aid is available to specific students? First-year, transfer, undergraduate, graduate, adult learners, etc.
- Does the school offer need-based aid beyond federal grants and loans?
- If a scholarship needs a separate application, does it have the same or a different deadline from the application deadline?
- Does the school offer a full-ride or full-tuition scholarship? If so, how do you apply and what are the requirements?
- Will the student know their admission decision and financial aid package at the same time or will there be a delay?
- Do talent-based scholarships require an in-person audition or will recorded/digital materials suffice?
- What is the school’s scholarship stacking policy? If you receive a scholarship from a non-collegiate organization, how will it impact your financial aid package?
- Does the school offer financial aid through a fellowship, scholars, or honors program? If so, how do you apply, what are the requirements, and when is the application due?
This guide lays out the easiest way to learn about a college’s specific scholarships and important financial aid questions to consider as you explore their website. I hope that this has helped give you both a method to find the information and some context for the terminology that you are likely to see. If you’d like to know more about financial aid in the college application process, you can check out our other financial aid blogs below:
- What Is a Financial Aid Appeal?
- How to Find Scholarships
- How to Understand Your Financial Aid Award Letter
- Tuition Exchange Programs: Going Out of State for College but Not Paying Full Price
- Applying for Financial Aid: A Step-by-Step Guide
Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors, Sawyer Earwood provides stress-free, personalized, and professional one-on-one college guidance around the globe from the comfort of a student’s own home. See his profile with contact information here.