Where to find college scholarshipsFinancing your college education can be a daunting endeavor. Private schools can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, leaving many over $100,000 in debt after four years in college. Even public schools are raising their rates, with many costing as much as $10,000 a year or more. Financial aid in the form of government and private loans can help pay the costs in the short term, but repaying these loans can still be challenging, even over a long term.

Fortunately, there are many scholarships available to help pay for the cost of your college education, either in full or in part. Don’t worry: You don’t have to be an academic superstar to get scholarships. Many are available based on ethnicity, religion, group affiliation, hobby, or several other criteria. Here are a few places to start your search for college scholarships:

Scholarships Online

There are plenty of great online search engines to find scholarships. Fast Web (www.fastweb.com) is one of the most popular and comprehensive sites. You should start by providing some information about yourself — the more the better — so that the search results will be relevant to your interests and qualifications.

Some scholarship search engines require that you register with the site before you can search. Others may even require you to pay. Avoid sites that require paid membership or those that require you to pay to apply for the scholarship. There are plenty of reputable free sites and other resources that will provide you the same information.

Scholarships From Employers

Check with your place of business to find out if there is a scholarship or tuition-assistance program. Many companies offer scholarships to high-school seniors. Companies often require the scholarship recipient to be an employee or the child of an employee. Check with your parents’ place of business, as well! Many companies also offer tuition assistance or reimbursement. These programs often pay a percentage of your tuition, based on years or service or relevance of the program to your current work. Often, tuition is reimbursed, so even if you get it back later, you will have to front the money when you begin the semester.

Scholarships From Local Organizations

Churches, community groups, and government organizations all offer scholarships, and they usually limit them to citizens of the community or those who have some affiliation with the organization. For example, many civic groups such as the 4H Club or the Ruritans offer scholarships for members or children of members. Numerous scholarships are available based on church membership. Government organizations often offer scholarships for students studying in the local area or pursuing a relevant course of study (such as Farming Bureaus offering scholarships for those interested in agriculture, etc.).

Scholarships Based on Affiliation

Finally, look for scholarships based on personal interests and traits. There are a wide variety of scholarships available for minorities (broadly defined to include women, ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged, and more), those with disabilities, residents of a particular locale, or those studying a specific field. Many more scholarships are available for specific traits — such as left handedness, those who wear eye glasses, dog lovers, and so on — as well as specific hobbies and interests — such as amateur whistlers, jugglers, horse riders, and so on. Take inventory of all the things that make you special, including any particular hobbies or talents, and search out scholarships that suit you.

When starting any scholarship search, begin with your school counselor. Many scholarships are advertised directly through high schools and community colleges. Counselors can also offer you the best advice on where to start your search based on your needs.