A quarter million dollars for a high school student’s ­science project…$30,000 for ­doodling …$10,000 for making a prom dress out of duct tape. Among the 1.7 million US scholarships available, there is more than $46 billion available to help pay undergraduate college bills, according to the most recent Department of Education statistics. The vast majority of those scholarships cover a few hundred to a few thousand dollars of college costs for elite students who meet specific qualifications and, perhaps, write an essay—but some provide much larger sums and/or reward much less conventional achievements.

Here’s how to locate scholarships, plus a look at notable ones…

Where to Find Scholarships

There are numerous online databases available to help students search for potentially appropriate scholarships. Examples that can be accessed for free: Fastweb.comScholarships.comScholarShipOwl.com (a paid tier is offered, but the scholarship database can be accessed for free)…Cappex.com…and The College Board’s BigFuture website (on BigFuture.collegeboard.org, choose “Scholarship Search” from the “Pay for College” menu). These sites are the best places to start a scholarship search, but there’s so much overlap between their listings that there’s no need to use more than a few of them. Helpful: Fastweb, owned by the company that also owns the well-known Monster.com job search site, does a particularly good job keeping its database up to date.

Three more ways to find scholarships…

Printed scholarship guidebooks. Top sellers include The Ultimate Scholarship Book and Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants & Prizes. Printed books lack the digital-search capabilities of the websites, but you may stumble across scholarship categories and possibilities that the student might not previously have considered. If your library or bookstore has more than one of these guidebooks, use whichever was published most recently.

Bulletin boards in or near high school counselors’ offices or college financial aid offices. There often are notices posted here about scholarships that target local students and/or students graduating from or enrolled in that particular school. Some local or school-specific scholarships also can be found in the online databases and printed guidebooks, but others cannot—organizations that offer these sorts of scholarships sometimes avoid appearing in national resources because they don’t want to have to sort through thousands of applications from students who don’t qualify.

Enter the word “scholarship” and words related to the student into a search engine. Try words that have to do with where the student lives…the student’s areas of interest or intended major…and/or demographic factors. If your searches turn up largely irrelevant results unrelated to scholarship offers, search again with the word “scholarship” repeated two or three times—with many search engines, repeating a term emphasizes that word’s importance. Example: If you are a biology student, search for “biology scholarships,” then “biology scholarships scholarships” and “biology scholarships scholarships scholarships.” Repeating the word “scholarships” causes more focus on the word, yielding different Google search results.

Warning: Proceed with caution when using search engines to locate scholarships—searches such as these can turn up appealing scholarships as well as scams. To avoid scams: Confirm that any scholarship you find this way is also in one or more of the databases and/or guidebooks noted above…and skip any scholarships that require applicants or “winners” to pay a fee or provide a Social Security number. Legitimate scholarship providers do not require recipients’ Social Security numbers for any reason. In fact, scholarships are not taxable at all as long as the scholarship money goes toward “qualified expenses” such as tuition or textbooks.

When to Search

Make the scholarship search an ongoing process—some scholarships can be applied for as early as elementary school…scholarships for high school seniors but with deadlines that families will miss if they wait until spring…scholarships available only to students who are enrolled in college…and scholarships and fellowships for grad students.

Adults returning to college should search for scholarships, too—many scholarships do not have upper age limits. There even are scholarships specifically for adults returning to school. Example: The Patsy Takemoto Mink scholarship (PatsyMinkFoundation.org) is for mothers who have minor children—applicants must be at least 17, but there’s no upper age limit.

Five Big Money Scholarships

The following scholarships offer top prizes of $50,000 or more…

Regeneron Science Talent Search. Launched in 1942 as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, this program awards prizes of as much as $250,000 to high school seniors who have conducted original research projects in the sciences. The application deadline is in early November, but this isn’t a scholarship where applicants can wait until the deadline nears—winning applicants have inevitably conducted six months to several years of research. Talent Search alumni have gone on to win 13 Nobel Prizes. SocietyForScience.org/regeneron-sts

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarships. These offer up to $55,000 per year for up to four years—that’s potentially $220,000. Recipients are high-achieving students in financial need. Minimum standards include a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.5 and family annual gross income of no more than $95,000, but meeting those minimums is just the start—expect stiff competition and a full financial review of family income and assets. Students are eligible to apply during the fall of senior year—the deadline tends to be in mid-November. JKCF.org

Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway. This big scholarship doesn’t specifically reward elite academic achievement. Students submit a short video about their goals, then finalists compete for scholarships worth up to $100,000 by throwing footballs through a hoop. The deadline for applications typically is in the spring. DrPepperTuition.com

Davidson Fellows Scholarship. Scholarships of as much as $50,000 are provided to high-achieving students age 18 and under who have completed “a significant piece of work” in science, technology, engineering, math, literature, music, philosophy or in an “outside the box” category. The deadline is in late February. DavidsonGifted.org

Elks Clubs Most Valuable Student Scholarships. Up to $50,000 in scholarship money is given to students based on four primary factors—leadership, academic achievement, community involvement and financial need. Students do not need to be related to an Elks Club member to apply. The deadline typically is in mid-November of senior year of high school. Elks.org/scholars/scholarships/mvs.cfm

5 Offbeat Scholarships

Duck-Brand Duct Tape Stuck at Prom Contest. Students create a prom dress or tuxedo made of Duck brand duct tape to qualify for this scholarship. There are two top prizes—one for a tuxedo, one for a dress—of $10,000 each. Pictures of past winners are on the website. The deadline is typically early June. StuckAtProm.com

Doodle for Google. Students create a logo for Google. Winning designs receive as much as $30,000 in scholarship money—plus a technology package of $50,000 for their school. Students from kindergarten through grade 12 are eligible—entries are judged within the same grade group. The deadline typically is early March. Doodles.Google.com/d4g

The Gallery Collection ­Create-a-Greeting-Card Scholarship. Students design a greeting card to compete for $10,000 and $1,000 for their school. Students ages 14 and older are eligible. This year’s deadline is early March. On GalleryCollection.com, select “Scholarship Contests.”

Vegetarian Resource Group scholarship. Scholarships of up to $10,000 for high school seniors who promoted vegetarianism. This year’s deadline is in February. VRG.org/student/scholar.htm

Minecraft Scholarship. Applicants submit essays about how the video game Minecraft can be a positive influence on education and career development. The winner receives a $2,000 scholarship. High school and college students are eligible. This year’s deadline is at the end of July. https://apexminecrafthosting.com/minecraft-scholarship/

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