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5 Creative Ways to Win a College Scholarship

Corbin Thompson -- Working smart, not hard, can help rising college students find scholarships that enhance their personalities and chances of landing multiple financial aid awards.

Universities may provide the majority of college scholarships, but there are countless private scholarships available for rising college students to take advantage of. In fact, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, around $6 billion in nonfederal scholarships was paid out to undergraduates in the academic year of 2015-2016. Not bad, right?

While that may be the case, that does not make the search for scholarships any less intimidating. Scholarships can be competitive. However, there are ways to increase your odds of winning one of these coveted awards. For one, it’s not just about getting good grades and impressive SAT scores—there are many ways to stand out in an application pool and highlight your unique strengths and talents. Here are some creative tips and tricks to help you land the college scholarship of your dreams. Let’s get started!

1. Get involved in your community

Are you interested in helping find homes for animals in need? What about taking care of the planet or supporting child welfare causes in your community? If you are passionate about a cause, volunteering for a local organization or non-profit in your community is a great way to up your odds of winning a scholarship. According to Marianne Ragins, a former student who won over $400,000 in scholarship money, students who volunteer and exhibit their leadership skills enjoy a huge advantage with scholarship sponsors. This is mainly because many scholarship sponsors are non-profits, and these benefactors want to see your commitment to helping causes similar to their own.

Volunteering for a nonprofit or organization is easier than you might think. There are typically organizations in every student’s hometown and can be found at local churches, food banks, or community gardens. Take note: scholarship judges want to see a long-term commitment to a particular cause or non-profit, not just a one-off day of volunteering at a single event.

2. Look locally

Every scholarship varies when it comes to the level of competition. The problem is, you never know how many people are applying for a select scholarship at a given time. One way to increase your chances of landing a scholarship is to apply locally for scholarships specifically designated towards people from your hometown. In general, local scholarships are going to be easier to win than regional and national ones.

While these scholarships may be harder to find, and won’t necessarily be located on scholarship websites or search engines, consult your high school guidance counselor for more information. It will also be worth your while to look in coffee shops, libraries, and outside of financial aid offices.

3. Use scholarship search platforms

There’s a good chance that you already know about this tip, but we’re including it for a reason: scholarship-specific search engines are the best way to find scholarships that perfectly suit your background. Many top-rated platforms will encourage you to create a profile and fill out basic information about who you are and what you are interested in. This will allow the engine to send you more specific scholarships that are catered towards you.

By applying for niche scholarships, the application pools will be smaller than scholarships where all high school students are eligible, which will also increase your chance of winning these scholarships. For example, if you are a woman in STEM or come from a military family, there are countless scholarships that are specifically geared towards these communities of people. There are also scholarships available for students pursuing a specific college major such as education, engineering, or math.

Another tip? Don’t ignore the small stuff. It’s common for students to bypass scholarships with lower monetary awards because they have their eyes on bigger prizes. There’s a good chance that fewer people will be applying to these financial aid opportunities, which will increase your chances of winning these awards. When it comes to paying for college, every little bit counts!

4. Search for Non-Traditional Scholarships

Scholarships aren’t just for natural-born mathematicians or talented athletes. There are many scholarships geared towards artists, performers, and those who love to soak up the spotlight. For example, if you are a passionate singer, musician, or artist, there are ways to send in samples of your work as a means to win financial aid for college. It’s time to turn one of your hobbies or extracurricular activities into an opportunity to save money for college!

Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel like you have a special talent! There are many out-of-the-box essay competitions for anyone and everyone to apply to. The topics on these essays range from a “Make Me Laugh” scholarship for class clowns and future comedians to a “Flavor of the Month” scholarship for people who have always wanted to concoct their own ice cream flavor.

5. Be passionate

Last but not least: be passionate about your scholarship applications. As laborious as applications can be, if you feel bored while working on your application, chances are, the judges will feel the same way when they are reading it. Scholarship panels spend hours looking through application after application, which means it’s paramount to have your application stand out from the crowd.

While it may be tempting to apply only to no-essay scholarships, the essay portion of an application is what truly lets your story and personality shine. Use the essay as an opportunity to tell your compelling, one-of-a-kind story. Make sure to include lots of details that help reveal your identity, strengths, and passions.


While the scholarship search can be daunting and overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. By working smart, not hard, and finding scholarships that help your personality shine, there’s a great chance of landing not just one but also multiple financial aid awards. Take advantage of the available resources, including your college counselor, opportunities in your hometown, and the best scholarship websites, and the odds will certainly be in your favor. Happy hunting!

Corbin Thompson is a writer, author, and occasional composer. His main interests are health, education, and parenting. He currently resides in San Francisco with his two sons and golden retriever.

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