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How to Create a Scholarship Game Plan

By Huntington Learning Center

Parents of high school students have plenty on their minds, but at the top of the list is paying for college—and for good reason. The cost of college has risen steadily for the last three decades.* While many families plan on taking out federal loans to help cover the cost, teens should absolutely apply for scholarships. That “gift” aid (free money) can make the cost of college a little or a lot more affordable.

There are thousands of scholarships out there that can come from many different sources: the federal government, state government, colleges and universities, private organizations, nonprofits and even businesses. It is definitely worthwhile to search and apply for scholarships, but in a methodical, organized way. Here are a few tips on creating a scholarship search game plan:

  1. Create a spreadsheet for tracking research. Before teens start researching scholarships, it’s a good idea to develop a system for keeping track of them. Many of the popular scholarship engines out there have a dashboard of their own that allows students to manage their scholarship matches and application progress, but it’s wise for teens to have their own database too since they might apply to different scholarships from different sources. A simple Google Sheet or Excel spreadsheet will do the trick.
  2. Research. Too often, high schoolers disregard the idea of scholarships, thinking they’re reserved only for the highest achieving students. However, there are scholarships for students from many backgrounds with various skills and in different niches. Students should do their research, keeping several things in mind:
    • Get to know the guidance counselor.
    • Sign up for any college platform or email list recommended by the high school guidance counseling office (such as Naviance), which is likely to be the best way to keep on top of deadlines for scholarships the school advertises.
    • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used by both state and federal agencies (and colleges use the FAFSA’s Student Aid Report to determine the financial aid award they offer, which might include scholarships).
    • Keep small scholarships in mind, as they tend to be less competitive and can add up quickly.
    • Start early, as many scholarships require elements like letters of recommendation and essays.
    • Find ways to be efficient, like reusing/revising personal statements and essays to fit similar but slightly different scholarship applications.
    • In addition to the guidance counselor’s office, there are many other places to look for scholarships:
      • Scholarship databases like and
      • Local foundations, community organizations, businesses and civic groups
      • Library resource desk
  3. Dedicate time each week to scholarship research. There are lots of scholarships available to students, but those who earn them are dedicated and diligent. Teens should make time every week for researching scholarships and applying to those for which they’re qualified.
  4. Log progress. Teens should update their scholarship spreadsheet regularly, which will keep deadlines top of mind and keep them motivated to continue the effort. Here’s an example of how a tracking system might look:
Name Provider Website Deadline Award Criteria Other Status
Johnson Scholarship ABC Foundation 11/1/2019

$5K - $10K per year for tuition + fees

in-state schools

3.75 GPA New Freshman,

Top 10% of class

Average SAT 1300

Average ACT 30


Letter of rec

Interview required

Requested letter from Ms. Smith 8/10/2019

Started online application 9/1/2019

Applying for scholarships takes effort, but the task is much less stressful when teens stay organized. Parents, encourage your teens to approach the job in a disciplined way, which will make it easier to apply widely and streamline the application process.


* “Trends in College Pricing 2017,” published by the College Board, states that over the past three decades, the dollar increases in published tuition and fees (in 2017 dollars) ranged from $1,550 (from 1987-88 to 1997-98) to $2,690 (from 2007-08 to 2017-18) at public four-year institutions and from $5,860 (from 1987-88 to 1997-98) to $7,220 (from 2007-08 to 2017-18) in the private nonprofit four-year sector.