Maybe you've heard from your friends that there are many unclaimed scholarships lurking out there, just waiting for you to snap them up to pay for college. Perhaps you've received a sales pitch from a firm promising to find thousands of dollars to fund your college education-all for a fee, of course.
Unfortunately, most financial aid professionals agree that unclaimed scholarships are more myth than reality. While some do exist, they may have restrictions and requirements that many students do not meet.
Types of Scholarships
College scholarships fall into two categories: public and private. Unclaimed scholarships generally fall into the private scholarship category, but could potentially be in both.
Typically well-funded and open to any interested applicant, public scholarships provide partial or full funding for a college or graduate school education. Some require essays in addition to the application or other demonstrations of student willingness and desire for the scholarship. Excellent grades, leadership abilities, and other factors may be part of the evaluation process for awards. Many target students with particular aptitudes, interests, or majors. Students should check into public scholarships from for-profit corporations, as well as non-profit organizations. The College Board (maker of the SAT) sponsors a Young Epidemiology Scholarship (YES) that provides up to 120 fully paid scholarships for students pursuing a career in epidemiology. Pharmaceutical companies, automotive companies, and department stores frequently sponsor scholarships as well. Fierce competitions for these scholarships suggests that students should apply early and expend their best effort on all application materials.
While it's rare that public scholarships go unclaimed, if you are interested in an unusual major, career path or geographic location, research scholarships in your field. The more rare or unusual the field, the better the chances that the money remains unclaimed.
Private Scholarships: Source of Unclaimed Scholarships
Private scholarships provide full or partial tuition assistance but are only open to students who meet selective criteria. Some colleges and universities offer scholarships for various majors, including common disciplines as well as highly specialized ones. The college financial aid office provides information to interested students along with the appropriate application forms.Some companies offer scholarship money to families through the workplace as part of the company's benefit plan. Parents should check with their Human Resources department to see if tuition reimbursement or scholarships are offered for dependent children. This type of scholarship falls most frequently into the "unclaimed scholarship" category. The reason is simple. If not enough people at the company have children embarking on their college education, monies set aside for the fund remain untapped in that particular year.
Other private scholarships come from groups, clubs, civic associations, churches or other groups. They may have special criteria for the scholarship, such as scholarships for minorities or geographically based scholarships.
Finding Your Pot of Gold
Private scholarship funds offer students the best chance of finding unclaimed funds. While public scholarships have hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants, by their very nature, private scholarships limit the applicant pool to students who meet very specific and selective criteria.
As an example, Melissa, a music major heading off to the Berkeley School of Music, found a small $1,000.00 scholarship awarded by her father's Italian-American civic organization. The only requirement for this private scholarship was that a parent or guardian was a member of the organization, and the family was of Italian heritage. As with the private, company-based scholarships, the application pool for the money was very small. With a little research, you may find similar opportunities among your local community, religious organizations and civic groups.
The criteria for scholarships that go unclaimed is often unusual, and sometimes downright weird. There are, for example, private scholarships for students of various ethnic heritages with very specific interests. Often wealthy donors or families created these scholarships to honor a deceased family member whose interests and passions were unique or eccentric.
How to Find Unclaimed Scholarships without Spending a Fortune
Don't waste money on search services that promise to find unclaimed scholarships for a fee. Free scholarship listings provide easy ways to find many sources of scholarships. With diligence and perseverance, you can find them on your own. Try the following tips:
- Start with your school college counseling or guidance counseling office. If your school doesn't have one, ask a teacher if the district has a central counseling resources. These offices frequently subscribe to books, publications and databases that aren't available to the general public but contain a wealth of resources to help you.
- Ask parents or guardians if their employers offer scholarships. Because companies may not have many applicants in a given year, this can be a great source of unclaimed scholarships. The company's Human Resources office distributes such information.
- Visit your local public library. Libraries too, like guidance offices, contain reference collections that include college and scholarship guides to help students.
- Call the financial aid offices of colleges to which you are applying. Explain what you need and request scholarship information and forms to apply. Financial aid offsets many aspects of college tuition, and financial aid offices are the hub for such funds on each college campus.
- If you are of Hispanic heritage, Hispanic Scholarships lists many potential sources of scholarships, grants and more.
- The College Board is a 100+ year old not-for-profit organization that helps students prepare for college. Their websites contains great information to help you pay for college. Their free search tool lists hundreds of reliable sources for scholarships.
- ACT, another non-profit organization that creates and administers the ACT college entrance exam, also provides general scholarship information on their website to help you plan and pay for your education.