spark-admissions-logo Free Consultation

Scholarships for Senior High School Students

students lined up for high-school graduation in their cap and gown.

Image via Flickr by thechoprasglobaleducation

Preparing to attend college is an exciting time in a teenager’s life, but it can also bring some stress. After all, the average cost of tuition alone is over $10,000 at a public college and more than $36,000 at a private institution. And those costs don’t factor in room, board, books, and other living essentials!

If you’re wondering how to pay for your education, you’ll be interested to know that thousands of scholarships are available to students, all based on different merits and qualifications. Some even go unclaimed. Start now and apply for the scholarships for which you qualify so that you can make college expenses more manageable.

When and Where to Start

Many students believe that the time to start applying for scholarships is just before their freshman year of college. However, in many cases, this date is too late, and students may miss out on options that would have been available to them had they started the process a bit earlier. It’s actually best to begin the scholarship search during students’ junior year of high school, as some scholarship deadlines will fall as early as a year before they begin college. The good news is that you can start applying for scholarships before you know where you’ve been accepted.

It’s also important to note that your hobbies could help you qualify for certain scholarships. People from all backgrounds and areas of study have endowments that help other students pay for college; if your interests align with these organizations’, you might be eligible for some of those funds. Gamers, comic book artists, crafters, and gardeners can all qualify for specialty scholarships. In other words, scholarships aren’t just for all-stars on the football field or students with 4.0 GPAs.

You can get started in the scholarship search by talking to your high school counselor. Discuss your aspirations for college, including where you want to go and what you plan to study. Your counselor may know of scholarship opportunities that are specific to that school or field of study. Other avenues for learning about scholarships include word of mouth and online resources.

Different Types of Scholarships

Academic-based scholarships, also known as merit scholarships, are those given to students based on academic criteria, such as test scores, graduation ranking, or grades. Some may focus on the performance of a student in a certain field, such as his or her writing skills, artistic abilities, or scientific performance. Academic scholarships may take other factors into account, such as extracurricular activities and the major on which the student plans to focus during his or her studies. These scholarships can come from community organizations, educational institutions, and families that want to help other students attend college.

Athletic scholarships are granted to excellent student-athletes in exchange for their participation on the college’s sports team. Most of these scholarships come from schools that participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I of play, although Division II schools may have scholarship funds or financial aid available to students as well. Students who qualify for athletic scholarships must adhere closely to the rules dictated by the NCAA, including those that relate to recruiting.

Other scholarship opportunities are granted to those who write engaging essays, focus on certain areas of study, or are interested in being part of the U.S. military. Special groups and organizations may also provide scholarships to those who fit into their criteria, such as minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, single parents, and those from certain ethnic backgrounds.

Then, there are need-based scholarships, which are given to individuals who aren’t able to pay for their own schooling costs.

Separately, your family may also qualify for federal and/or state grants, which are a form of financial aid. Pell Grants are given based on financial need and do not have to be paid back, while Perkins and Stafford loans are federally backed and have low-interest rates. In order to determine what you qualify for on the federal level, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many states provide grants and scholarships to in-state residents who plan to attend colleges and universities located within the state. Students from families of all income levels can qualify.


One of the top online sources for finding and applying for scholarships is Fastweb, which has a database of more than 1.5 million opportunities. To start on this site, you will need to create a profile that includes your academic level, as well as your skills, interests, and strengths. This information is used to match you with scholarships for which you might qualify, as well as target opportunities that relate to your background and planned area of study.

College Board

If you have taken any Advanced Placement (AP) classes during your high school career and passed the course’s corresponding test, you can utilize the College Board website to search for scholarships related to that course’s subject matter. The information provided on this site comes from College Board’s annual survey of financial aid programs and provides opportunities from over 2,200 programs that total $6 billion in funding.


If you are nearing the end of your senior year, you can utilize Unigo to search for scholarships available just to you. The site’s search parameters allow users to put in a wide range of angles, whether you are attending a certain school or pursuing a certain major. This site also has a section dedicated specifically to scholarships available to seniors in high school.

Helpful Tips for Scholarship Searches

Be aware that while different scholarships have their own requirements and qualifications, all have some similarities. A scholarship search or application shouldn’t have a cost associated with it, as these typically aren’t reputable. You can also apply for multiple scholarships, and even one worth several hundred dollars could help your family pay for books, living expenses, or an on-campus parking pass. That said, some scholarships are only available to students currently enrolled in college, so make sure you continue to search for and apply for opportunities throughout your college career.

Now that you know where to look for information about available scholarships, you can get started with the application process. Qualifying for a scholarship can help reduce some of the stress associated with the financial aspect of college, so it’s well worth the time it takes to apply. If you have further questions or concerns, our world-renowned college consultants are happy to offer assistance with scholarship applications in addition to the rest of the admissions process.

Subscribe to our newsletter for college admissions news

Related articles from the Spark Admissions blog

Spark Admissions has the highest college admissions success rate in the country.

Contact us to learn more about our admissions consulting services.

Schedule Your Free Consultation