To Win College Scholarships Start Local and Then Go National

By Sam Rosensohn

While everyone knows college scholarships are a painless way to defray the spiraling cost of college, too few students acknowledge that the S in scholarship stands for search – scholarships don’t come knocking, they must be discovered.

The key to raking in scholarship money is for students to get in search-mode, and the search begins in their hometown.  Students should set their sights on organizations in their own backyard that sponsor scholarships before moving on to the national competition.

A smart and easy way to identify backyard scholarships is to ask a college counselor at school for a list of local scholarships. Local organizations advise guidance departments of their scholarships.

Since many local service clubs belong to a national organization, inquire if the national organization also offers a scholarship. The local chapters of the American Legion, Rotary Club, Elks Club, Knights of Columbus, and Lions Club, all belong to national organizations, which offer scholarships, some of which have $25,000 awards.

I won $24,000 from the U.S. Congress to pay for a master’s degree. The James Madison Fellowship is issued to one schoolteacher in the state of Connecticut annually.  Sounds like big stuff, huh? Don’t be fooled. The competition isn’t nearly as deep as one might think.

To make the point I refer you to Todd Beckman, a program clerk, who works for the James Madison Fellowship. I gave him a call to see if he would say how people applied for this award in 2000, the year I won. That year there were 18 applicants from Connecticut. I rest my case. The competition isn’t that thick.

In New York that year, 16 people applied and two won $24,000 prizes, and in California they had 16 people apply and there were three winners. “This year we’re doing a lot more to get people to apply, we’re expecting 400 applicants (from 50 states) and we’ll probably get less than that,” Beckman said.

Once you’ve exhausted service organizations then look at the scholarships offered by local religious organizations. A good person to contact is the cleric in charge of a local house of worship. If you belong to a house of worship, you have an edge. But if you don’t that doesn’t count you out. And again, be certain to look at the national and international organization of the particular church, mosque or synagogue.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of freshmen who are currently looking for scholarship money, and that the search doesn’t stop once a student has been accepted to college. Sharp students learn of scholarships while they’re in college and apply and win awards all the way through college.

If a parent belongs to a union at work, or if a student is thinking of working in a field that has a union, get online and see if that union offers a scholarship. The Air Line Pilots Association, the American Federation of Teachers, The National Association of Letter Carriers, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, for example, all offer scholarships. They all have web sites, which list the funds available and the criteria necessary to apply for the money.

One of my favorite stories is about a student discovering a scholarship, because of a brain-pounding headache. He was about to gulp a Tylenol down, and while reading the fine print on the bottle he discovered the manufacturer offered scholarships. That head-busting headache generated $1,500.

Students can win a scholarship if their parents or grandparents served in the military. The 25th Infantry Division Association sponsors the 25th Infantry Division Association Scholarship for children and grandchildren of the unit. This tip comes from Gen and Kelly Tanabe’s wonderful book, 1001 Ways to Pay for College, a good book to own.

There are lots of local scholarships that are there for the taking. Students who play varsity sports should find out if their team has a booster club with a scholarship program. The Touchdown Club at Valley Regional High School in Deep River presented $2000 in scholarships to graduating seniors the year my son was on the team.

According to the New York Times there are more than 700,000 scholarships available from over 25,000 providers annually. The web site WiredScholar maintains that its database currently contains over 2.4 million scholarships worth over 14 billion dollars.

Since some deadlines are in the spring of junior year, the time to get rolling is now.

A smart way to start searching beyond the backyard for scholarships is to go to the Internet. Take a look at Free Scholarship Information,; The College Board,; The Wall Street Journal: College Journal,; The Princeton Review, http//; Adventures in Education,; SuperCollege ;,; Petersons,; CollegeNet,; ScholarshipExperts, http://www.

Bottom line, we hardly scratched the surface – get into search-mode and clock those dollars. It’s easier than most think, but it takes some digging.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at