Son hugging mom at college drop-off

When your high school student inevitably says that they are bored this summer, that’s your cue to encourage them to start their scholarship search. Scholarships are free money for their higher education. Just as importantly, scholarships do not have to be repaid, unlike student loans. So, when your student has down time this summer, it’s a great opportunity to look those free funds that can support their education without any cost for your family. Scholarships can help to stretch those education savings in your Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage, account as far as possible.  

According to the 2022 “How America Pays For College” study by Sallie Mae, families are using scholarships and grants to pay for up to 26% of educational expenses. In 2022, 60% of families are using scholarships to cover costs at their institutions of higher education. In fact, 48% of families continue to search for scholarships throughout the school year to help cover college costs. The numbers show how scholarships can be a critical part of your game plan to cover your child’s education after high school.

Why start the scholarship search early

Why is it important for your student to start their scholarship search at least a year before they start their higher education? Some scholarships may have deadlines that are at least a year out from when these free funds will be released for their higher education. So, if your student would like to compete for these scholarships to use their freshman year, they may need to fill out the application the summer prior to their senior year of high school.

It will take time for your student to do the research to find all the available scholarships for which they qualify. It will also take a good amount of time for your student to fill out the scholarship applications and write the necessary essays.

And even if your child is heading off to college this fall, there’s still time to earn scholarship money this summer, to use for college expenses in this, or the following, school year.

Before starting the scholarship search

Early in their high school career, your teenager should pursue different extracurricular school organizations, sports, and volunteer activities to make themselves more well-rounded to a scholarship organization, which may place a high emphasis on activities outside of the classroom. 

What is your student passionate about? This could lead to volunteering opportunities to add to their scholarship applications and may even inspire their choice of what to study for their education after high school. Are there any clubs they participate in after school or are they part of a sports team? Do they work a part-time job to add to their college savings? These activities not only show off your student’s academic abilities, they show that your student can balance responsibilities and have good time management skills. 

Organizations your child participates in athletically, academically or socially may also offer specialized scholarships for individuals who have served with the organization.

How to get going on the scholarship search

It can be hard to know where to start. The first website to visit is the Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. This is the federal agency for which you will fill out the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much federal financial aid your student will receive. The agency also offer guidance on scholarships and Pell Grants, including what sources to tap for more information, including the free scholarship search tool from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Visit high school counselors for your search

An appointment with your student’s high school counselor would be a good second stop. They have access to many resources and scholarship tools to point you and your student in the right direction. Counselors also can offer guidance on scholarship essays, and help your child prepare for the scholarship interview process. They can also assist your student in identifying teachers to ask for recommendation letters to strengthen their applications.

Free scholarship websites to search

After seeing what resources the guidance counselor can offer, it’s time for your student to search the web. There are many free online scholarship sites to research like Sallie MaeFinAid, and FastWeb to name a few. On these sites, your child would create a profile with their academic scores, community or volunteer service, athletic or academic activities. After supplying that information, students will be matched with scholarship applications for which they are eligible. 

Sallie Mae also offers the Paying For College Resource. The website assembles free tools, videos and checklists to follow as you all prepare for your children’s higher education. It even shows what steps to take to fill out FAFSA and how to understand your financial aid letters. There’s even a monthly $2,000 scholarship for which your child can register for and they don’t even have to write an essay.

FinAid also created a list for the more unusual scholarships that are available.

Also, check to see if the business where your student works or any organization at which they volunteer offers scholarships.

If your child is still has a couple years of high school, make sure to write down the names of the scholarships that they may want to apply for at a later time, or use the list functionality that some scholarship search sites offer. 

Be sure to apply for small dollar scholarships. If your student earns several of these, their scholarship total will grow. There may also be fewer applicants for these scholarships so your student’s application may stand out in a smaller crowd. 

Remember, you should not have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship. If an organization ask for a fee or credit card number, do not share that information with them and continue your scholarship search elsewhere.

Save with Ohio’s 529 Plan

Before your child starts their scholarship search, you can help them with their higher education expenses by saving in Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage. Ohio’s 529 Plan offers tax-free earnings, tax-free withdrawals for qualified costs, and a state income tax deduction for Ohioans who contribute to Ohio’s 529 Plan.

Ohio’s 529 Plan can be used nationwide for whatever comes after high school, including federally accredited  apprenticeshipstrade and specialty schoolscommunity colleges or technical schools, certificate programs, four-year universities and colleges, graduate school, law school, and medical school. 

Visit Ohio’s 529 Plan online to start saving today for your child’s future education. An investment in a 529 plan is an investment in your child where every dollar saved today is a dollar that doesn’t have to be borrowed later. A 529 account can be used for whatever education comes after high school. Learn, plan and start an Ohio 529 Plan today at

This article was originally posted in August 2019 and has been updated to reflect new information for 2023.



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