How to get as many scholarships for college as possible

Lisa Fan
Lisa Fan is a senior at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn.
"Students can receive as many scholarships as they can get their hands on, up to their cost of attendance." -- James Hammer, financial aid counselor at the University of St. Thomas

With college tuition rising each year, high school students everywhere are looking for ways to pay for college without building a huge pile of debt. One of the best ways is with scholarships.

What are they exactly? A scholarship is a financial award given to a student on the basis of academic achievement and promise. Some also take financial need into account. Scholarships are specifically geared towards students who are attending college and are used to pay part or all of a student’s tuition.

Unlike loans, scholarships do not have to be paid back.

“The more scholarships (you get), the less money you have to pay back after you graduate,” said Michelle Overtoom, a financial aid counselor at the University of Minnesota. “You want that free money.”

There are many different types of scholarships. “Some scholarships are based on academics, others are need-based, and others could even be based on where you live,” said Casey Carmody, an admissions representative from Inver Hills Community College.

Other scholarships may be based on a student’s chosen major, athletic ability, religious affiliation, race, or social activities. The amount can range from a few hundred dollars from a local business to tens of thousands. The Gates Millennium Scholars program covers all expenses not covered by other aid, for example.

Scholarships come from a variety of sources as well. “There are scholarships from universities or university departments, as well as those from outside sources such as community organizations, high schools, corporations, and private foundations,” Overtoom said.

One of the hardest parts of applying for scholarships is knowing where to look. “Do some research and look on the Internet,” Overtoom suggested. “Check on university websites and with community organizations, local businesses, and high school counselors because scholarship donors send a lot of information to counselors.”

Xuan Pham, a graduate of Washburn High School in Minneapolis, knows where to look. “I have many websites that I get scholarship info from,” Pham said. “ is a popular site for high school and college students. Another one I recommend is You fill out a profile and they automatically sign you up for Cappex exclusive scholarships just because you are a member of the site.”

It’s a good idea to apply for as many scholarships as you can to maximize your financial aid opportunity. “You can absolutely receive more than one scholarship,” said James Hammar, a financial aid counselor at the University of St. Thomas. “Students can receive as many scholarships as they can get their hands on, up to their cost of attendance.”

It’s important to get started early. You wouldn’t want to ruin your chances on a scholarship by missing the application deadline. In addition, many scholarships are first-come, first-serve. Begin looking for scholarship opportunities as early you can, usually in October of your senior year of high school.

“Check out scholarships, and check them out early,” said Sarah Hover, director of Career and Employment Services as Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights. “At Inver Hills, you have to apply for scholarships by May before the fall of your freshman year.”

Some scholarships can be very competitive, but it’s a good idea to apply anyway if you think you have a shot. Applying for scholarships will not hurt your college admission chances.

“As far as St. Thomas is concerned, we accept students before we collect any information about their FAFSA,” Hammar said. “We award students scholarships based on their admission applications, so no student is even considered for our university scholarships until they are accepted.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that once you receive a scholarship, you may need to meet certain requirements in college in order to keep it,.

“Check with the scholarship donor. Some scholarships are just one-year, and some are renewable, provided you meet certain requirements,” Overtoom said. “Most scholarships are for degree-seeking programs, so you must be making progress towards completing a degree to be eligible. [The scholarship provider] also may check other minimum requirements such as GPA and credit completion ratio. Otherwise you may lose your scholarship.”

Remember, there are really scholarships for everyone, so all students are encouraged to apply because there’s nothing to lose, and you can gain remarkable benefits.

Pham, who has been researching and applying to scholarships since freshman year in high school, haw some advice for teens applying to scholarships.

“Stay patient and be grateful that there are people and organizations who are willing to contribute to your education,” Pham said. Seek out resources such as your counselor, teachers, career center, and online sites to sort through scholarships you might be eligible for.

Start early and do not wait until your senior year to apply for scholarships many accept all high school students. “Follow through with the deadlines and really show your potential if you do receive the scholarship money.”