There’s no getting around it: college is expensive, and it is a daunting task to figure out how you’re going to pay for it. One way to make that a little easier is to check this list of college scholarships for high school seniors.
One of the first steps towards paying for college for families of high school juniors and seniors should be to understand your financial aid situation. That includes federal and institutional aid, which may be comprised of both grants and loans based mostly on your family’s financial standing.
Your next step should be to research private scholarships.
There are thousands of different private scholarships for high school seniors available, and they are one of the best ways to help finance your child's education. These private scholarships vary greatly in terms of eligibility, deadlines, application criteria, and award amounts, but if your child is in their senior year, it’s time to focus on the scholarships they're going to apply for.
We've put together a list of scholarships that are not geographically restricted to students who live in a specific region, and can generally be used at any college your child plans to attend. We’ve divided the list into need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships, essay competitions, and field-of-study scholarships. We have also provided a range of smaller and larger, less competitive and more competitive scholarships in this list. Consider it a starting point to give you ideas of other similar scholarships to which your senior might also be well-suited to apply!
Financial Need-Based Scholarships for High School Seniors
The following scholarships all take into consideration the financial need of the applicants when choosing who will receive them. There are generally other criteria considered as well - academic strength, academic or extracurricular interests, leadership qualities, and community service. However, you’ll need to demonstrate financial need for each of these scholarships.
This $3,000 scholarship, sponsored by the Epsilon Sigma Alpha service organization, is awarded to six students annually. Students are judged based on their leadership / service experience, financial need, and scholastic ability (academics).
The Horatio Alger Scholarship is a program designed to assist students who have overcome obstacles and adversity in their lives. This is one of the larger need-based scholarship programs, and application is likely quite competitive. Applicants must demonstrate financial need ($55,000 or lower adjusted gross family income), as well as integrity, perseverance, and dedication to community service.
The Dell Scholars Program is a program designed to provide low-income students with scholarships to get into college and services to help them successfully complete college. Applicants must demonstrate grit, potential, and ambition. This is a large, competitive scholarship program with the potential for significant financial awards.
The Elks National Foundation MVS Competition awards 500 four-year scholarships to qualified students each year. The awards are significant - they range from $4,000 to $50,000 (most are $4,000) spread over four years. Your child submits their application at a nearby Elks lodge. Applicants are considered based on leadership, academic achievement, community involvement, and financial need.
Merit-Based College Scholarships for High School Seniors
The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation is another one of the largest scholarship programs for rising college freshmen. This program awards 150 scholarships of $20,000 each, and as such is applied to by many high school seniors. The application takes into account academic achievement, leadership, and extracurricular involvement. The process is highly selective, and involves interviews and essays, as well. Applying to this scholarship is right for your child if they have exceptional academic achievement, they are applying to selective colleges, and they have been involved as a leader in extracurricular activities. If your child is going to apply to this scholarship, they should give themself plenty of time at the beginning of your senior year to apply.
The Burger King Scholars program gives out a range of awards to students based on their GPA, work experience, extracurricular involvement, and community service. The program grants scholarships that range from $1,000 to $50,000, and there are not a set number of scholarships - in 2016, they granted about 2,800 scholarships.
Rotary Clubs, present in many communities across the United States, offer varying scholarships to local graduating high school students. These scholarships are localized, which make them a great opportunity to set yourself apart in a smaller pool of applicants. You have to do the legwork, though - check with your local Rotary Club to see what scholarship opportunities exist.
Essay-Based College Scholarships for High School Seniors
The following scholarships are all primarily based on the applicant’s performance on an essay task, usually related to the mission of the organization sponsoring the scholarship. These scholarship opportunities require you to devote a significant amount of time to planning, writing, and revising your essay, but the rewards can be fruitful if you are chosen! Your child shouldn't apply to these scholarships blindly; they should research the organization sponsoring the scholarship, and only choose to apply if they can put their heart into the essay and believe they are a qualified candidate.
The American Foreign Service Association holds an annual essay contest encouraging students to think about important international issues. Students must write an essay analyzing a critical current issue in international affairs and propose solutions to the given issue. The winner and runner-up receive $2,500 and $1,250 awards, respectively, as well as tuition to extracurricular educational programs.
The Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead essay contests are some of the most prominent yearly essay contests for high school seniors. These contests ask seniors to write essays on one of three topics related to Ayn Rand’s novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Awards are given to winners and runners-up, totaling up to over $75,000 annually.
The Voice of Democracy essay contest, sponsored by the VFW, is a unique contest in that students write their essays on a patriotic theme, then read them and submit them as audio recordings. The VFW gives out up to 54 awards ranging from $1,000 to $30,000 to the winners of this contest.
The Villa “I Matter” Scholarship offers 50 awards annually to students who demonstrate academic achievement, community service involvement, and more. Applicants must write an essay on a topic pertaining to the theme of “I Matter;” for example, the prompt for 2017 is related to exploring the efficacy of activism on social media. Awards range up to $1,000.
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest is sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and it awards cash prizes to the top 25 entries, including a top prize of $10,000 to $20,000. Each year there is a special contest topic; application involves researching and writing an essay related to John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.
Field of Study-Based Scholarships
Your child may not know what they’d like to study in college, but if they have a good idea of a career or field to pursue, there are scholarships available for them. The following scholarships all take into account your child's plans for their major, area of interest, or career.
The Asia SiVon Cottom Scholarship is awarded to students who have excelled academically and are pursuing a degree in a science, math, engineering, or technology (STEM) field. The scholarship requires a short essay and the submission of other materials, and is awarded to a varying number of students.
The William Randolph Hearst Foundation US Senate Youth Program might be for your child if they are interested in government, and they are passionate about studying politics. One can apply if they are active in student government and interested in studying government in college. Applicants need to show leadership, academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, and additional qualities. Each year, 104 winners are awarded $5,000 and a trip to Washington, D.C.
The Buick Achievers Scholarship Program is a scholarship program awarding large scholarships to students who plan to major in engineering, technology, design, or business-related fields, and who are interested in applying their academic passion and expertise to working in the automotive industry. This scholarship takes into account academic achievement, financial need, and other factors, and it is quite competitive given the size of the awards.
Organize Your Scholarship List
We suggest making a calendar to keep track of everything you need to do in the college application process, and you’ll want to include scholarship applications on this calendar. From need-based, to merit-based, to essay-based, there are a wide range of scholarships for high school seniors, and the eligibility rules vary. Some scholarships may only be available to students who live in a certain region, or who are going to study in a particular field, or whose parents work for a specific company, for example. Others may only require submitting transcripts as part of an application, and still others may be distributed by choosing the winner of an essay contest.
Footing the bill for college is a big task, but you don’t have to go it alone - you have to put in quite a bit of work, but if you plan carefully and choose opportunities that are right for your child, there’s money available to make it a little bit easier. The scholarships for high school seniors we showed here are but a small sample of the opportunities out there, including many regional and local awards, so do your research and get started!