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How to Win Local Scholarships
Local scholarships offer students a fantastic way to fund their education. Whether you are considering a four-year college, trade school, or community college, there are local scholarships out there for you. One of the best things about local scholarships is that they tend to be the scholarships you are most likely to win. The reason for this is simple: since these competitions are not open to students around the country, they receive fewer applications. Therefore, each applicant has a better chance of winning.
But finding local scholarships is an art. They typically are not widely advertised, and sometimes they won’t have online applications. In some ways this is actually a good thing for you because it limits the number of applicants. But in order to take advantage of them, you have to know where to look.
In this article, we’ll break down all the different places you should check for local scholarships, and give you some tips on crafting successful local scholarship applications. Let’s get into it!
Jump ahead to…
- Where to find local scholarships
- How to win local scholarships
- Consider in-state tuition at a public university
- Frequently asked questions
Where to find local scholarships
To win local scholarships, your first step should be knowing where to look. Here are some of the best places to find local scholarships:
Start with your school
The best place to start when looking for local scholarships is always your school. If you are a college-bound high school student, be sure to check-in with both your high school’s college counselor and the financial aid department at your future college.
Financial aid professionals and college counselors make it their job to send students to college and find financially viable routes for them to pay tuition. So, these people will have an extensive knowledge of the scholarships available for local students. Oftentimes, they will be able to offer you a list of the best local scholarship opportunities to consider.
In addition to speaking directly with counselors, you can check the website of both your high school and your college. Oftentimes, they maintain a page of scholarships in the community that offers some great options.
And remember – you can qualify for local scholarships in the community you’re from and in the community you’re planning on attending college.
Research past scholarships that students at your high school have received
Every year, high schools around the country put together a list of graduates for the commencement program. Sometimes these programs include information such as where the students are attending college or which students won certain awards or scholarships. This was the case at the high school I worked at as a guidance counselor.
The list of awards and scholarships is a fantastic shortcut for finding all of the scholarships that the previous high school class won. If you can get a copy of the program (some of these programs may even be online), you will have a great list of scholarships that you may apply for.
Check the organizations you’re already involved in
Once you’ve checked in with your current and/or future school, it’s time to ask around at the local organizations you’re involved with. Whether that is a place of worship, an athletic club, a volunteer organization, a hobby group, the Scouts, or any other structured activity you’re a part of, they might offer scholarships for their members. Even if they don’t offer a scholarship themselves, they may know of opportunities in the community.
Be sure to ask a member of your organization who is well-connected in the community – the more deeply rooted they are, the better chance there is that they will know of local opportunities you may qualify for.
Check community organizations
Most community organizations keep a list of local scholarships, and some even offer their own. If you’re not sure about the nearest community organization to you, try the Council on Foundations’ Community Foundation Locator.
Find local chapters of national organizations
There are many national organizations out there that run local chapters across the country. Here are a couple examples of national organizations that run regional chapters that often offer scholarships:
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a national organization focused on philanthropy, patriotism, and other similar initiatives. They have chapters all across the country, and many of these chapters offer scholarships to students in their area.
Some scholarship opportunities are only for Elks Club members and children of Elks Club members, while others are open to the general population.
Scouts organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, and Girl Scouts of America, are another national organization with chapters all across the country. They offer national scholarships, as well as regional and local scholarship opportunities.
Some of these opportunities are only open to members of the organization, whereas others are open to the public. If you are a current member of the Scouts, try looking for scholarships specifically for Eagle Scouts.
The Rotary Club is a global organization that began in Chicago in 1905. They have regional chapters all over the United States. It is a service organization that works to better each community it is part of. One of their main initiatives, started in 1985, was to vaccinate all the world’s children against polio.
Be sure to check out your local chapter of the Rotary Club for scholarship opportunities that fit your profile. You’ll be especially eligible for these scholarships if you are involved in community service projects.
Lions Club International is another global service organization that helps mobilize its members to do good for their community. Check with your local chapter to see if they offer scholarships to the community!
The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization has chapters across the country, and they offer scholarships on both a national level and a local level, depending on where you live. Even if you don’t have veterans in your family, it’s worth checking to see if your local chapter offers scholarships. Some of their opportunities are open to the public, such as the Young American Creative Patriotic Art Contest.
4-H is another national organization that focuses on the development of America’s youth. They are especially popular in agricultural communities, and they give many children the opportunity to care for and raise an animal.
Be sure to check in with your local chapter to see what funds they may offer, and whether you qualify for them!
Check local businesses
Many local businesses also offer scholarships to students in their community. Businesses like law firms and local banks may offer funds to college-bound students. Your college counselor will typically be well-informed about these opportunities, so be sure to check in with them.
Related: How to win corporate scholarships
Look for programs with your employers or your parents’ employers
Tuition reimbursement is an increasingly popular benefit that employers offer their employees. But not everyone knows about it, and many people are unaware that some tuition reimbursement programs can benefit their children and family members.
If you are currently employed, check in with your HR department to see if these programs are available. And if you are a high school student who thinks you won’t qualify because your job is not in your intended career, think again! Employers like Chipotle and McDonald’s offer tuition reimbursement programs to employees such as cooks and cashiers, even if their field of study is unrelated to the service industry.
You should also encourage your parents to check-in with their jobs. Some tuition reimbursement programs extend these benefits to the children of employees.
Research professional organizations
If you are already enrolled in college and/or have a strong idea of the career path you hope to pursue, try looking up some professional organizations that are relevant to your field. Many offer scholarships to students pursuing a relevant degree, such as the American Psychological Association’s scholarships.
However, many of these opportunities require you to be a member to apply. This typically comes with a monthly or annual fee, though they are typically discounted for students.
Check for government grants
Students from all across the country qualify for federal grants such as the Pell Grant or the TEACH Grant. But did you know that many local governments also offer scholarships and grants to students in their community? The best way to find out about these is by reaching out to your high school’s college counselor, as well as your college’s financial aid and admissions offices.
Search scholarships by state
To get you started on local scholarships, try finding your state on our list of scholarships by state. These vetted opportunities are localized to each individual state, so you won’t have as much competition as you will in national scholarships.
How to win local scholarships
Winning scholarships is an art, and if you’re in the application process, you’ll probably write a lot of essays and personal statements. Like any scholarship, local scholarships require strong essays and applications to win. However, there is a specific art to putting together a winning local scholarship application.
Local organizations are looking for students who are community-minded. Here are some tips to fine-tune your application to appeal to the organizations who will be reading your essays.
Discuss how you hope to use your degree to give back to your community
Local scholarships exist to improve their communities by educating the youth.They want to know that you plan to use your degree to make a difference in your community and continue to pay it forward.
So, in your applications, try discussing the aspects of your community that contributed to your growth and how you hope to build on them to help future generations. If your community is facing any specific issues, you can write about how these issues motivate you and how you hope to remedy them in the future.
Related: How to write an essay about yourself
Reflect on how your community has shaped you
In your essays and personal statements, discuss how your ambitions, strengths, and passions were shaped by your community. Try to emphasize what you’ve gained from growing up as part of your community, and then talk about how you hope to use these skills to make a difference in the world.
Brainstorm a list of ways you’ve participated in your community
When it comes to scholarship essays, it’s important to show, rather than tell. Don’t just say how much you care for your community – describe the ways you’ve participated and then build on them to illustrate what you hope to do in the future.
Remember, participation doesn’t always have to be formal roles that you’ve held. If you shovel your neighbor’s driveway in the winter, or play pickup basketball at the park, these are all forms of participation in your community. If you describe what these activities mean to you, they can be powerful additions to a scholarship application.
Talk to local leaders
One great way to put together strong local scholarship applications is to talk to local leaders. Anyone who is deeply involved in your community could be a good candidate. Tell them the scholarship you’re applying for and ask for pointers on what to focus on in your application. Oftentimes, these community leaders will be more than happy to help and offer great advice.
Consider in-state tuition at a public university
One of the best ways to bring down the cost of college by keeping it local is applying to an in-state public university. Public universities offer steep tuition discounts to in-state students. Oftentimes, this discount can exceed 50%. On top of that, many schools reserve select academic and merit scholarships for students who are from their state.
To give you an idea of how substantial this tuition discount can be, we can look at the 2022-2023 tuition rates at Miami University in Ohio. Tuition for non-Ohio residents is 35,370 per year, whereas in-state students pay $14,341 in tuition. This is over a 50% discount.
Also, remember that it’s possible to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student! Many states have struck up reciprocity agreements, meaning that students from both states can receive tuition discounts at public universities in either state. One of the biggest examples of these agreements is the Western Undergraduate Exchange. This agreement provides tuition discounts to students in sixteen states.
Staying up to date on opportunities in your area
Once you go out into your community and ask your high school counselor, your future college’s financial aid office, and your community leaders, you should have a good lay of the land as far as local scholarships go. But what if new opportunities open up in the future? How can you stay on top of local scholarships while still putting your all into schoolwork, extracurriculars, and your other responsibilities?
Luckily, we can lend you a hand. Our free scholarship matching tool updates every day with new scholarship opportunities matched specifically to your profile. It only takes a couple minutes to sign up, and once you have an account, you can login anytime to see an updated list of scholarships matched specifically to you.
Advantages and disadvantages of local scholarships
Now that you’ve got the rundown on how to find and apply for local scholarships, let’s get into some of their advantages and disadvantages. This will help you decide where they fit into your overall educational funding strategy.
Advantages of local scholarships
The main advantage of local scholarships is that there is less competition. Since local scholarships are open to a smaller number of students, less people will apply, so you will have a statistically higher chance of winning each opportunity you apply to.
As a student, you have a lot of responsibilities. Between college applications, keeping up on schoolwork, studying for standardized tests, working a part-time job, and participating in extracurriculars, there’s a lot on your plate. So, it makes sense you’d want each of your scholarship applications to count. Applying to local scholarships can help you earn more scholarship money without spending all your time working on applications.
More opportunities for personal appeal
If you are an active member of your community, applying for local scholarships is a great idea because it allows you to emphasize your passion for your community. If you are involved in a local organization, or you reference a public place in your neighborhood, there’s a better chance the person reading your application will understand exactly what you mean. This helps create a personal connection and gives you a better chance of a successful application.
Disadvantages of local scholarships
Lower award amounts
The main disadvantage of local scholarships is that they typically offer lower awards than national scholarships. That’s because the community organizations that offer them usually do not have as much funding. However, winning three local scholarships worth $1,000 each is worth more than applying to three high-award national scholarships and not winning any of them!
Less prestigious than some national scholarships
Some prestigious national scholarships offer students additional benefits, such as networking opportunities and support structures in college. Local scholarships don’t typically offer these benefits, and they usually don’t look as impressive on your resume.
That being said, the best strategy for students is to apply for national and local scholarships simultaneously. National scholarships may come with a bigger payoff, but you’re more likely to win a local competition.
Remember to cover all your bases
While local scholarships are a great opportunity to enter scholarship competitions that have less applicants, they should not be the entirety of your financial aid process. Make sure you take advantage of funding from the Department of Education by filling out the FAFSA. This will gauge your financial need to determine your eligibility for the Pell Grant, federal student loans, and state-wide grants.
Checklist for winning local scholarships
- Look for opportunities through your high school or through community foundations in your area
- Contact people who have attended college and went to your high school and/or grew up in your neighborhood. These can be family friends, students who have returned to your high school to give talks, and more.
- Research the history of your community. For local scholarships, it can never hurt to have a comprehensive knowledge of the community you are applying in. Make sure to figure out how you fit into your community, and use this knowledge to stand out in your application essays.
- Find out if your parents’ employers offer tuition reimbursement opportunities for dependents and immediate family
Frequently asked questions
How do I find scholarships in my area?
Are local scholarships better?
How can I find scholarships in my local area?
Can international students apply for local scholarships?
What are some common mistakes to avoid when applying for local scholarships?