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Last updated September 14, 2023

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Outside Scholarships: What They Are & How to Find Them

Key Takeaway

Outside scholarships are a mostly untapped resource that can help pay for college. By using existing networks and online resources, you can find opportunities in your local community and beyond. Stacking multiple awards can make a big difference in college costs.

If you’re applying to college, you’ve probably heard about things like the FAFSA and merit-based scholarships. But did you know that those aren’t the only ways to get money for college?

You can also apply for what we like to call “outside scholarships.” We call them “outside” because they come from organizations outside of the colleges or universities you’re applying to. And since they’re “scholarships,” you don’t have to pay them back like you do student loans.

There are some huge outside scholarships, like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship, which is open nationally. And then there are smaller, more specific scholarships, like the Kenneth and Carrie Carns Nursing Scholarship, which is only available to Wyoming residents who want to study nursing.

If you’re looking for help funding your education and don’t think other sources of funding are going to cut it, you should look into outside scholarships.

Let’s dive in.

What are outside scholarships?

Outside scholarships are, simply put, funds for college that come from groups that have no ties to the schools you’re applying to.

These groups can include non-profit organizations, private businesses, community associations, government programs, foundations, and even your parent's employer. They're separate from any financial aid package from your school or from the FAFSA.

Outside scholarships seem like the perfect source of funding, right? They can supplement what you get from a college or university, and you don’t have to pay them back like you do student loans.

So why doesn’t everyone get outside scholarships?

Because most students don’t take the time to find them and apply!

It seems like a huge hassle to track down other scholarships you might be eligible for. And then it’s even more of a hassle to actually apply to them.

Most students realize that it’s a hassle and avoid them completely. But taking a little extra time to pursue outside scholarships now can save you a lot of time and money in the future.

How can I get outside scholarships for college?

The great thing about outside scholarships is their diversity. They come in all sorts of forms, from merit-based to need-based, offered by small local organizations or national ones, catering to specific talents and skills or recognizing general academic achievement.

But here's the thing: you have to go digging for them.

Start by exploring opportunities right in your neighborhood.

Community-based organizations, local businesses, or even your church could offer scholarships.

While they might not be as large as some scholarships offered by your college, every dollar matters. Even a $500 scholarship can help foot the bill for your textbooks for a semester.

Use your existing networks.

One trick to finding extra money is to use your existing networks. Have a chat with your guidance counselor, ask your parents' friends and coworkers, and check with local organizations that you or your family are connected to.

In my admissions experience, students often don't make full use of these networks. It might feel weird to ask people about scholarship opportunities, but you'll be surprised at how many people are eager to help and how many leads you can get.

Take to the Internet.

Next, search online. Lots of scholarship databases are online, which you can sift through based on things like your intended major, personal interests, or demographics. Just watch out for any scholarship application that asks for a fee—real scholarships will never ask for this.
Remember, these outside scholarships aren't limited to just your local community or national organizations. Parents' workplaces often have scholarships for their employees' kids. An essay-writing contest might offer cash prizes that you could put towards your tuition. The possibilities are endless—you just need to actually look.

Using Outside Scholarships

One of the best parts about outside scholarships is that they can usually be "stacked"—you can put together several smaller scholarships to chip away at your costs. So even though outside scholarships might not individually take a big chunk out of your tuition, collectively, they can really help ease the financial pressure of college and save you from having to take out a bunch or student loans.

There’s just one thing to keep in mind. If you are lucky enough to land one of those big scholarships like the Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship that covers a significant portion of your tuition, you’ll want to double-check with the colleges and universities you’ve been admitted to. If you bring in an outside scholarship that is very large, your university-awarded financial aid package may be adjusted. As always, reach out to the admissions counselor or financial aid office if you have any questions.


Outside scholarships are financial awards from groups not connected to your college or university. They're a mostly untapped resource that can help you pay for college. By using your connections and online resources, you can find these opportunities in your local community and beyond. While they might seem small on their own, by stacking multiple awards, you can make a serious dent in your college costs. So get out there, do some detective work, and start applying! Every dollar counts.
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