Aside from grants and loans, private scholarships are some of the best ways to help fund your college education. There are thousands of scholarships out there for high school seniors, all with different eligibility requirements, deadlines, and award amounts, so it would be worth your time to do your own research.
Senior year is prime crunch time when it comes to your college scholarship search. If you’re just starting the search process and need a little help getting off on the right foot, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled a list of some of the best college scholarships for high school seniors based on availability and award amounts. These scholarships are generally flexible (you’ll be able to use them at any accredited college you choose to attend), and they don’t have any geographical restrictions (so you’re eligible to apply no matter where you live in the US).
The list is broken down into lists of scholarship competitions, merit-based scholarships, need-based scholarships, and specialty awards. Check out the end of the post for strategies on getting the most scholarship money possible!
All scholarships are competitions—to win the following scholarships, though, you might have to go directly head-to-head with other students.
The following scholarships are awarded based on performance in some sort of contest. These types of scholarships can be pretty intensive, so give yourself extra time to effectively prepare if you plan on pursuing one of the following awards.
Voice of Democracy Scholarship Competition
Students compete for this award by writing and recording an audio essay on a patriotic theme. This year's theme is "American History: Our Hope for the Future." The first place winner receives a grand prize of $30,000; winners also receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC. A total of $154,000 in awards is given out annually.
- This competition is open to students in grades 9-12.
- The next application submission deadline is expected to be in October 2018.
The Fountainhead Essay Contest
Students compete for this award by writing an essay on one of three topics related to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. The first-place winner receives a grand prize of $10,000; runners-up also receive prizes. A total of $43,750 is given out annually.
- The competition is open to students in grades 11-12.
- The submission deadline is May 15, 2018.
Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest
Students compete for this award by writing an essay on one of three topics related to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The first-place winner receives $10,000. Runners-up also receive prizes, and a whopping $43,7500 in scholarship money is awarded annually.
- The competition is open to high school seniors, college students, and graduate students.
- The submission deadline is May 15, 2018.
American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest
Are you a good public speaker, or do you just want an excuse to work on your public speaking skills? This competition might be a good fit for you. Students compete for this award by preparing and performing a 3-5 minute oration on some aspect of the US Constitution. You can view this year's topics here.
The first place winner receives an award of $18,000, second place receives $16,000, and third place receives $14,000. There are also smaller awards for state winners. In total, annual awards amounts can be over $138,000.
- The competition is open to US high school students under 20 years of age.
- Deadlines vary by state, as contests are arranged by local American Legion departments. Get more information for your state here.
Create-a-Greeting Card Scholarship Contest (Gallery Collection Scholarship)
This scholarship is pretty unique, and it's great for students with some untapped artistic talents! Students compete for this award by submitting a photo, piece of artwork, or computer graphic for the front of a greeting card. The winner receives $10,000, and the winner's school receives an award of $1,000.
- The competition is open to high school, college, and university students.
- The next submission deadline is expected to be in March 2019.
- Submit your design online here.
Siemens Math, Science, and Technology Award Scholarships
If you're interested in STEM competitions and would like the opportunity to win some major funding, this scholarship competition is the one for you. Students compete for this award by completing an individual or team research project (so you can win as an individual, or as part of a 2-3 person group). National awards range from $25,000 to $100,000, and regional awards range from $1,000 to $6,000.
- The competition is open to US high school students.
- The next submission deadline is expected to be in September 2018.
- Register for the competition here.
To win these scholarships, you have to show that you're tough—or at least that your brain is tough.
Scholarships Based on Academic Strength
The following scholarships are generally awarded based on your academic performance in conjunction with a few other factors (often leadership skills and commitment to community service). The most competitive applicants will be dedicated, high-achieving students who also show that they're invested in their communities.
Coca-Cola Scholars Program
Coca-Cola Scholars are judged on their academic performance, extracurricular activities, leadership experience, and community service. This scholarship program is fairly large: 150 awards of $20,000 are given out each year. You can learn more about the Coca-Cola scholarship by reading our guide to winning the award.
- This award is open to current high school seniors.
- The application opens in August; the submission deadline is typically in October.
Burger King Scholars Program
Applicants to this scholarship are judged on their GPA, work experience, extracurricular activities, and community service. Award amounts really range—they can be as small as $1,000 and as large as $50,000.
- This scholarship is open to US high school seniors who plan on going to college or vocational/technical school.
- The application period typically opens in October and closes in December.
- Register here to apply for the scholarship.
Ronald McDonald House Charities Scholarships
These award eligibility requirements will really vary based on your local Ronald McDonald House Charity chapter. Some scholarships have ethnic eligibility requirements, for example. Deadlines and award amounts will also vary by location, but some of the bigger national awards can be as large as $100,000! You can read more about getting an RMHC scholarship by checking out our how-to guide.
- These scholarships are open to high school seniors, but other eligibility requirements may apply based on the particular scholarship.
- The scholarship application typically opens in October.
If your family income isn't enough to cover college expenses, need-based scholarships might be great options for you.
Scholarships Based on Financial Need
The following scholarships take financial need into account when choosing award recipients. For many of these programs, though, financial need is just one of many criteria considered—strong applicants will also need to be strong students, leaders, or community activists. You'll likely have to submit documentation about your family income for most of these applications.
Horatio Alger Scholarship Award
This generous need-based scholarship is geared toward students who have faced and overcome great obstacles. To be considered eligible, your gross adjusted family income must be at or below $55,000. At the national level, there are 106 $25,000 awards; there are also state scholarships that range between $6,000 and $10,500.
This one scholarship application will get you considered for many other national, state, and specialized scholarships—which means less work for you and many more opportunities for scholarship funding!
- This scholarship is open to US high school seniors who plan on getting a BA.
- Application season typically runs from August to October.
Jackie Robinson's Foundation Scholarship Program
Applicants to this need-based scholarship are judged on leadership skills and commitment to community service. To be considered eligible, you must identify as a minority student. As many as 60 new scholarships are awarded annually. The scholarships are four-year awards, and recipients can receive as much as $30,000 over four years.
- This scholarship is open to minority high school seniors.
- The application period typically runs from November to February.
Engebretson Foundation Scholarship
This scholarship is pretty straightforward: it's awarded to one student each year who demonstrates financial need, in addition to impressive academic performance and leadership ability. The annual award winner receives $5,000 per semester of college.
- This scholarship is open to current high school seniors.
- Applications must be submitted via mail.
- The application submission deadline is typically in March.
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program
In addition to providing funding for school, this scholarship program offers personal advising on selecting a college, navigating financial aid, and transitioning from high school to college. Applicants are judged on academic ability and achievement, financial need, persistence, desire to help others, and leadership. Awards are given to up to 40 students each year, and can be as much as $40,000.
- This scholarship is open to high school seniors with financial need who will attend a 4-year college.
- The application is open from early September to early November. Get notified when the application opens.
Elk's National Foundation Most Valuable Student Competition
Applicants to this need-based scholarship are judged on their scholarship and leadership abilities. In total, 500 scholarships are awarded across the country, and total award amounts (over four years) range from $4,000 to $50,000. Applications must be submitted to the Elk Lodge closest to your home address, so research the Elk Lodges in your area before you apply!
- This scholarship is open to US high school seniors.
- Last year's application period opened September 1st. The start date and deadline for this year have yet to be announced but is typically in November.
These next scholarships are unique—just like every student applicant!
The following scholarship programs are national awards but target students with specific or unique interests or achievements. Whether you're the next president of the SPCA or even the USA, you should be able to find a specialty scholarship that's perfect for you!
CIA Undergraduate Scholars Program
This program offers more than just a scholarship—if you're selected as a winner, you'll become a part of a pretty unique internship program. Interns work at the CIA during summer breaks, are given an annual salary (with benefits), and an annual scholarship award of up to $18,000. You must demonstrate financial need to qualify. Income eligibility ceilings are $70,000 for a family of four or fewer, and $80,000 for a family of five or more.
- This scholarship is open to high school seniors.
- Applications are accepted April 1-August 31, 2018.
Vegetarian Resource Group Scholarship
Are you a proud vegetarian? This might seem like a uniquely niche award, but the scholarship is very real! The Vegetarian Resource Group judges applicants on their "compassion, courage, and a strong commitment to promoting a peaceful world through a vegetarian diet/lifestyle." If you've promoted vegetarianism in your school or community, you'll likely be a strong applicant. The first-place winner receives $10,000, and two runners-up each receive $5,000.
- The scholarship is open to graduating high school seniors.
- The application submission deadline is usually in February.
Davidson Fellowship Scholarships
Do you have an extraordinary achievement you're particularly proud of? This scholarship goes to unique students who have completed an impressive piece of work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, literature, music, or philosophy. Scholarship requirements differ based on the type of project, and awards range from $10,000 to $50,000.
- This scholarship is open to students 18 years of age and under.
- The application window typically runs from November to February.
AXA Achievement Scholarship
This scholarship targets students who have empowered society through achievements that mitigate risk. This can be interpreted pretty broadly, so spend some time thinking about what risk means to you and if you've participated in making the world a safer place through any of your activities. Last year, more than 300 students representing all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico received one-time scholarships in increments of $2,500, $10,000, or $25,000.
- This scholarship is open to high school seniors who will attend college in 2019-20.
- The application period opens September 2018.
William Randolph Hearst Foundations US Senate Youth Program
If you are passionate about public service, this is the scholarship for you. The Senate Youth Program targets students who participate in their high school student government and plan to study history or political science in college. Applicants are judged on their leadership abilities, academic performance, community involvement, and extracurricular activities. Each winner will receive a $10,000 award in addition to an all-expense-paid educational week in Washington DC.
- This scholarship is open to high school juniors and seniors.
- Students can apply through their high schools or state selection contacts.
- The application deadline varies depending on the state but is typically around October.
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Tips for Making the Most of Your Scholarship Applications
If you're going to go through all the work of submitting a scholarship application, you want to make sure you have the best chances possible of winning awards. The following tips will help you submit the greatest number of successful scholarship applications possible.
#1: Do Your Own Research
As you've probably noticed, many of the above scholarships are fairly generous, national awards that will likely be very competitive. You could be a very strong applicant for any number of scholarships and still not win one of these big national awards. So what's a student to do?
The reality is that there are countless scholarship programs out there that might be really good fits for your interests, location, background, identity, etc. The more niche a scholarship program, the better chances you'll have of winning an award (if you're a qualified applicant, that is). So do your own research on scholarships programs that operate in your area, or are offered to students with your particular interests or passions.
The Ronald McDonald House Charities scholarships are a good place to start. You can also pay a visit to your guidance counselor who should have more information on local scholarships.
In addition, you could branch out on your own by searching online for scholarships in your area. If you have a particular talent, skill, or interest, look for scholarships that are offered to students based on those criteria.
#2: Apply Broadly
Applying for scholarships (like applying to colleges) is in part a numbers game. You wouldn't apply to just one school if you wanted to optimize your chances of getting into a great college, would you?
Many scholarship applications ask similar questions and require similar information, so if you apply to one program, you might as well apply to a bunch. It's free to apply for most scholarships anyway—all it takes is a few hours of your time.
Finally, take advantage of applications that submit you for consideration for many scholarship awards, such as the Horatio Algier Scholarship mentioned above.
#3: Make Note of Deadlines
Scholarship applications are all over the place—there's no defined "scholarship season" for submission deadlines, but many are due before college application deadlines. As such, it's better to start your scholarship search earlier rather than later so you don't miss out on any great opportunities.
The summer before your senior year is a good time to start making note of programs you're interested in. Keep track of application deadlines by maintaining a spreadsheet that you update regularly. This is especially helpful if applications require you to ask for letters of recommendation; you can make sure to give teachers and mentors plenty of advance notice to write you a letter.
Want to get a head start on scoping out scholarships? Then check out our comprehensive guides to winning some of the most competitive national scholarships available, including the Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Walmart Scholarships, and the McDonald's Scholarships.
Need more help with your scholarship search? Read our expert guide on how to find college scholarships.
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“My GPA isn’t good enough.”
“I don’t have time.”
These excuses work, except for scholarships that don’t require a good GPA or much time.
Scholarship applications can be intimidating. It’s easy to think you’re not eligible or that there’s a better candidate out there, so why waste your the time and effort? Aside from the fact that there are many scholarships plenty of students qualify for and that a pretty good student is bound to land something, there’s another side to the scholarship story.
Below are four easy scholarships almost any student qualifies for.
1. U.S. Bank Scholarship
Are you a United States citizen and a high school senior or college undergraduate student? Then you can win $1,000. Nope, no other qualifications. Just be what you already are.
Each year, U.S. Bank gives away 40 $1,000 scholarships for simply being an American citizen who will be or is attending college. All you have to do is fill out some basic information about yourself and then the applications will be drawn at random.
It takes hardly any time at all, and consider this: If it takes you an hour to fill out the application and you win, you’ve just made $1,000 for an hour’s worth of work. Not bad pay for a college kid.
It truly doesn’t get easier than that.
2. “No essay” Scholarship
Most scholarships come but once a year (and some once in a lifetime). The beauty of the $2,000 “No essay” Scholarship is that it comes once a month and you can apply every single month.
And the application is as easy as can be. In fact, you could have filled it out probably 20 times since starting to read this article. You can only apply once a month, but if you’re a current or incoming college student and know basic information about yourself (name, address, etc.), then you can win $2,000. Winners are drawn at random.
The scholarship, offered through College Prowler, has a deadline at the end of every month.
3. $1,000 Weekly Scholarship
Even better than once-a-month is once-a-week. Granted, the Zinch.com weekly scholarship is not as simple as merely filling out basic information about yourself, it’s almost that simple.
All U.S. high schoolers and college students are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. All it requires is filling out a short form about yourself and answering an unusual question in 280 characters or less (similar to the Twitter-standard of characters). The question changes weekly. This week’s question, for example, is: “Greek historian Plutarch once wrote, The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. Explain what that quote means to you.”
You can apply every week, once a week. Have fun with it.
4. Scholarship Zone scholarship
It seems nearly every website wants you to register. It’s not enough to simply use a site’s service from time to time, apparently. But not many sites offer as great a possible reward as Scholarship Zone does.
By simply registering for the website (which requires answering less than 15 basic questions about yourself), you’re automatically entered for the next scholarship drawing of $10,000. You’re really not obligated to do anything after that, though you now get to take advantage of the website’s resources. But hey, are you at least 18 and in college? Then why not take two minutes to apply?
It can take a huge load off your tuition bill.
Don’t let student loan debt unnecessarily pile up. The excuse of not being qualified for scholarships can work for certain scholarships but not for these ones.
Laziness, in this case, can cost you thousands of dollars. Take a few minutes out of your day and rake in that dough.
Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer. He’s been published all over the place, ranging from Las Vegas Review Journal to AOL.com. His interests include education and improv comedy. Check out his life-changing blog.
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