How to Find and Choose Undergraduate Scholarships

As of 2021, $120 billion worth of grants, loans, and work-study goes out to students each year.

And while this number means a lot of chances for you to get a scholarship, you don’t want to waste hours of precious time applying for scholarships you have no chance of getting.

To stand out amongst the competition for undergraduate scholarships, you need to figure out which ones to apply for so you have the best chances of getting them.

If you’re ready to apply for scholarships, but don’t know where to start, this guide is for you. Keep reading to learn all about how to find undergraduate scholarships and how to apply to the best ones for you.

Grants vs Scholarships

One of the first things in learning how to apply for undergraduate scholarships is to know the difference between scholarships and grants.

These are different, so your approach to applying for them will also be different.

While both scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid, grants are based on financial need.

While scholarships can include some element of financial need, they are mostly based on merit and your achievements. These could be academic achievements, sports achievements, and also could be awarded if you belong to a particular group.


The best strategy to apply for scholarships isn’t applying for as many as possible, and hoping you’ll get one. This strategy could end up costing you a lot of time with no end results.

Instead, you need to self-assess and see what qualifications you have that can help you get a scholarship. These include:

  • Your GPA
  • Awards you’ve won
  • Any special skills you have
  • Hobbies
  • Interests
  • Family background (including minority status)
  • Community service

For example, if neither of your parents went to college, you may be able to find a scholarship that’s aimed at first-generation college attendees.

You can also find merit-based scholarships that focus on your GPA if you have straight As.

When you assess your qualifications, you’ll have a better idea of which scholarships to apply for. This way, even if you apply to a smaller number of scholarships, you have a higher chance of getting chosen for one.

Start Local

When you’re starting your scholarship search, you want to start local because these scholarships are often not as competitive as state-wide or national scholarships.

Another great reason to look for local scholarships is if you’ve volunteered for any local community organization. These organizations may have a scholarship program that you can apply to, and it would likely be less competitive if the organization is small.

You also want to look at your school’s scholarship offerings. This is a great option if you’ve accepted a college offer or are already attending a specific college.

Many colleges, departments, and programs have their own college undergraduate scholarships. If you’re looking to get a study abroad scholarship, talk with your school’s financial office about funding options.

The benefit of this is that they already have your grades on record, and you may not even have to submit an essay.

Use a Scholarship Search Engine

Your next step in how to find undergraduate scholarships is to use a free scholarship search engine.

Keep in mind that you should never have to pay to use a scholarship search engine or to apply for a scholarship. Both of these are major red flags and indicators of a scam.

Some of the most popular scholarship search engines include Sally Mae Scholarship Search, the College Board Scholarship Search,, and the US Department of Labor Scholarship Finder.

For best results on these scholarship searches, make sure to create a personal profile and update it every year as you gain credentials.

If you’re applying for a large number of scholarships, make sure you have a FAFSA form completed. Even if you think you won’t qualify, some scholarships still ask for a completed FAFSA form for you to be eligible.

Choose Between the Scholarship Types

To find out which scholarships you’re most eligible for, make sure you know the difference between the types of scholarships.

These include categories for academic achievement, sports, and belonging to certain groups, like first-generation college attendees or other underrepresented groups.

For example, if you want to apply to the National Merit Scholarship Program, you need to have high PSAT scores to qualify.

And if you’re applying for sports scholarships, keep in mind that some sports like Division 1 basketball have a maximum headcount per team. This gives you an idea of how many scholarships are available and what your chances might be of getting one.

Don’t forget that scholarships are also available for sports that aren’t as well-known as like basketball, such as surfing.

And if you’re applying for scholarships for minority groups, you usually also need grades in the top 10% of your class.

Some scholarships are geared towards people who are in military families. It’s also a good idea to check with your parent’s employers to see if they have any available scholarships.

Big Companies

Another great way to find scholarships (particularly fully-funded undergraduate scholarships) is to look at scholarship offerings of big companies.

While some of these scholarships may have a lot of competition, they often give out a lot of money. So if you fit the criteria and have a reasonable chance of winning, then it’s a great idea to apply.

Some companies you might not have thought offer scholarships include Foot Locker and Dell.

For example, Foot Locker offers a yearly $20,000 scholarship to student athletes as part of their Foot Locker Scholars Program. For this scholarship, Foot Locker is looking for students with exceptional academic and leadership skills.

On the other hand, Dell offers a $20,000 scholarship to students in an underserved category. These are students who fall in the middle of their academic peers, who are from low-income households, and who are the first in their families who are attending college.

Remember that big companies not only have general scholarships available, but they can also have scholarships for specific groups, so be sure to check out all your options.

Join an Honor Society

To increase the number of scholarships for undergraduate students you apply to, consider joining an honor society like the golden key society.

First of all, joining an honor society looks great on your resume. But even better than this is that these societies often give you their own list of scholarships you can apply to.

Plus, societies themselves give out grants to students to spend as they need. Honor societies will often only offer membership to the top 10 or 15% of students in their class.

If you want to join one, reach out to the society or go to their website if you have any questions or would like some advice on how to qualify.

Increase Your Odds

To increase your odds of winning a scholarship, start planning for scholarships as soon as you decide on going to college. This could mean doing some volunteer or community service work, as well as improving your grades.

When you’re writing scholarship essays, the judges want to see that you’ve followed the instructions but that you were also creative with the essay topic.

Remember that the judges will be able to see right through an applicant who’s writing what he or she thinks the judges want to see.

And if essay writing isn’t your strong suit, why not apply to some scholarships that don’t need an essay?

One example of this type of scholarship is the “Be Bold” No Essay Scholarship. This $25,000 scholarship is awarded to the student that creates the boldest profile on their site.

Other Important Tips to Keep In Mind

To make sure your hard work on your scholarship applications isn’t wasted, make sure to apply on time. You don’t want to rush through your essay because you forgot about the deadline.

You also want to ask for your references on time so you can guarantee you’ll have them.

If you have trouble writing essays, ask a friend, parent, professional, or your school’s guidance counselor to check it over for you.

And to reduce overwhelm, think about applying for some scholarships before you go to college. This will lower the number of scholarships you need to apply to by the time you choose which college you’re attending.

Remember to follow all the guidelines listed by each scholarship. You don’t want your scholarship application to be discounted because you didn’t follow the word count, for example.

Fund Your College Journey With Undergraduate Scholarships

Although many students’ parents help them out with their college fees, this often isn’t enough to fully cover the cost of college.

And for many students, getting undergraduate scholarships can be the deciding factor on whether you can go to college at all.

We hope this article helped you figure out how to look for scholarships and how to pick the best ones for you. For more helpful college-related content, like this blog post, be sure to check out the rest of our website.

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