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Ultimate Local Scholarships Guide: How to Find and Win Them


You may already know a lot about some of the big, popular, national scholarships - programs like the Gates Millennium Scholarship, the Coca-Cola Scholarship, McDonald’s Scholarships, and so on. If you’re interested in applying for scholarship money, it’s definitely easiest to start with awards that you already know about.

But if you only focus on these big awards, you could be missing out on a lot of cash. Local scholarship awards may be smaller than the most famous scholarship programs, but there are so many awards out there that it would be silly not to look into local options.

Here, I’ll talk a bit about how these local awards differ from the national ones and why it’s important that you consider these smaller scholarships. Then, I’ll talk about how you can find scholarships in your community. I’ll end with tips and strategies for submitting the best possible applications for local scholarship awards.

Keep reading if you want to win the most local scholarship money possible!


How Are Local Awards Different From National Ones? 

The scholarships you may already have heard about offer some seriously large monetary awards:

  • The Gates Scholarship covers all unmet need through college; the average annual award through 2014 came to about $12,500.
  • The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Scholarship gives winners $20,000.
  • The McDonald’s HACER Scholarship gives $100,000 over four years.

With big payouts like these + name-brand recognition, you’re going to come up against a lot of competition for these awards. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply for them - it just means you should also look into local awards.


What Makes Local Awards So Great? 

Local scholarships, by definition, are going to be targeted towards a smaller pool of potential applicants. The award amount may be smaller - they’re probably not funded by international private organizations - but they also will be less competitiveThat means you often have a much better chance of receiving an award!

There are some other serious advantages that come with focusing on local scholarships:

  • First, it'll probably be easier for you to seek out personalized information and feedback about available scholarships. This is because you have resources available to you in the form of guidance counselors, teachers, or community leaders who may know about local programs. This means you're more likely to find awards that are a good fit for you
  • Second, because local scholarships are relatively small (on average), you may find that their application processes are less intensive than those of the huge, national awards. This means it may be easier for you to apply for the awards you're interested in

Are you convinced yet that you should check out some small, local scholarships? If so, keep reading!


How to Find Local Scholarships in Your Community

There's no one way to go about looking for local scholarships, but there are a lot of different resources for you to take advantage of. The following tips and strategies will help you find as many appropriate local awards as possible. 


Talk to Your Guidance or College Counselor

Your guidance and college counselors are awesome resources. They tend to be very plugged into info on local awards and scholarship programs, and because they also (presumably) know you, they may be able to point you to awards that are the best fit for you.

You'll make a good impression on your counselor if you’re proactive and speak to her about awards. This will help you learn about local awards, of course, but it'll also be helpful when it comes time to find references for certain scholarship applications. Guidance and college counselors often write great letters of recommendation. 


Focus on Local Community and Cultural Centers

Community and cultural centers are hubs of local activity. If there are any popular local scholarship programs available, these centers may have information on them. They may even offer scholarships themselves!


Take Advantage of Online Resources

The College Board's scholarship database is a great place to start looking, even when it comes to local awards. The database may not have info on extremely limited or very small scholarships, but it does include state-based awards. 

Another thing to keep in mind is this resource doesn’t just list scholarships based on geography - it considers all sorts of relevant group affiliations that may affect scholarship eligibility. 

In addition to looking at the College Board's website, you'll want to do your own experimenting with looking for scholarships online. Start with some trial and error with Google - for example, search for "scholarship [your town]," "scholarship [your county]," "scholarship [your state]," or "scholarship [group affiliation]." 



 Independent online research is key to finding local awards. 


Submitting the Best Applications for Local Awards

If you already have some local scholarship programs in mind (or even if you’re still looking), it’s important to submit the best scholarship applications possible to maximize your chances of winning money.

Each local program is likely to have its own application, criteria, submission deadline, and administrative protocols. Keeping track of all of this information and actually completing the applications will be a pretty significant commitment on your end. As such, you want to make sure each application is appropriately submitted - you don’t want to put in a ton of work and not have anything pan out because you didn't follow instructions!

The following tips will help you optimize your success rate in applying for local awards.


Step #1: Make Sure You Meet All Eligibility Criteria

This is a big one - small awards are likely to have smaller, more specific target audiences, so you don’t want to waste your time applying for a scholarship that you have no chance of winning. Chances are you'll be automatically disqualified if you don't meet all criteria, regardless of your other accomplishments. 

If you have any questions about eligibility criteria, or if they’re unclear, contact the scholarship program ASAP so that they can clear things up.


Step #2: Ask Yourself If You're a Good Fit

This is related to the previous tip - because smaller local awards might be targeting smaller groups of students with specific interests, strengths, or backgrounds, you’ll want to assess whether you’re a good fit for the award before applying.

For example, let's say you find an award for scholar-athletes. If you're very strong academically but the last sport you played was JV lacrosse freshman year (and you sat on the bench for most games), you probably won’t be a competitive applicant. It might be prudent to skip an application like this even if you technically meet all eligibility requirements. 

Ultimately, you'll want to look for scholarships that fit best with your strengths. You may not be an ideal scholar-athlete, but maybe your time spent volunteering with local nonprofits would make you a competitive applicant for a community service award, for example.  



Your "fit" for a specific program is perhaps more important than your raw accomplishments. 


Step #3: Emphasize Your Ties to the Scholarship and the Community

Local scholarship programs are typically created and run by local people who are invested in students in their community. Boost your chances of winning local scholarships by emphasizing your connection to this community.

You'll want to start by thinking about how you conceptualize this "community." What is the group that the scholarship program is targeting, and how are you a part of it? 

  • If you're looking at a state-wide scholarship, it’s likely to be state-funded. You don't necessarily have to get too gung-ho about how much you love your state of residence. 
  • If you're looking at a scholarship based on some other geographical area (e.g. your city, town, or county), spend some time brainstorming about what this community means to you, how you’ve participated in it, why you value it, etc. You don’t have to gush about it in your application, but if you have an opportunity to write an essay make sure to emphasize these connections.
  • If you're looking at a scholarship based on a non-geographical community (e.g. a local organization, religious or interest group, etc.), you’d take the same sort of strategy as above. Do your research on the group’s mission and values if applicable. You’ll want your application to be congruent with these values.  
    • For example, if you’re applying for a community service award, talk about how the scholarship would help you further serve your community in the future.
    • If you’re applying for a scholarship that’s awarded in memory of another individual, learn about that person! Chances are that family & friends of that person are the ones going over applications. Do you share common interests and values? 


Step #4: Complete All Parts of the Application

Before you even start a scholarship application, read through all the paperwork to make sure you're able to provide everything that's required. For example, if the scholarship is due tomorrow and the app asks for a letter of recommendation, it’s probably not going to happen. 

Plan on submitting the application exactly as its rules state, even if the program is old school and asks you to fax the application or something silly like that. 

Common application components include:

  • The application itself, including demographic information
  • Application essays
  • Financial information (for need-based scholarships)
  • Academic information, like transcripts and test scores (for merit-based scholarships)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Other supporting documentation (e.g. records of volunteer hours)


Step #5: Make Sure to Meet the Deadline

Submitting a scholarship application late doesn’t make a good impression, and it’s likely to disqualify you.

Don’t wait until the last minute to submit a scholarship either - you don’t know if you’ll have technical issues or missing paperwork that might delay the process. Give yourself time to fix your application if you come across any issues.  

If you have to ask for letters of recommendation, give people 3-4 weeks advance notice. You might want to account for even more time if you are asking for recs during the “busy season” (around late fall).


Final Tips for Success

Hopefully, you're now all set to start looking for those awesome local scholarships. In order to optimize your chances of success, it's better to start sooner rather than later - a big chunk of awards are meant for high school seniors, so it's ideal to start your research early on in your junior year. This gives you plenty of time to organize everything you need to submit successful applications.

If you're already a senior, don't despair! There still may be scholarships out there for you. Just make sure to be especially mindful of deadlines, as they may come up pretty quickly. 

Finally, make it your mission to apply to several scholarship programs (and not just local ones, either). Don't put all your proverbial eggs in one basket by just applying for a single award, no matter how great of an applicant you are. 

Good luck, and go get 'em!


What's Next?

There are so many different types of scholarship programs out there. If you're just starting your research, it's smart to familiarize yourself with your options before submitting any applications. 

Start by checking out our guides to the top scholarships for high school juniors and seniors. You'll also want to read our article about the easiest scholarships to apply for - these applications can be completed in no time! 

Finally - tying into my comment earlier in the article about different kinds of communities - you might also want to look at our guide to the best scholarships for minority students


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Francesca Fulciniti
About the Author

Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.

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