local scholarships

Local Scholarships – Free Money to Pay for College

Mari DeCristo High School, Paying for College

Local scholarships are not on most people’s list of ways to pay for college.

If you’ve never heard of local scholarships, this post is for you. We’ll talk more about this college money source, including how to put yourself in the best position to get one.

What are Local Scholarships

Local scholarships are sponsored by organizations, groups, families, or individuals in your city or town. To be eligible, you need to live in or go to school there.

This is very different from national scholarships, where everyone in the country can apply.

 groups that offer scholarships

Who Offers Local Scholarships

There are many groups that offer local scholarships. Here are some examples.

  • Local businesses (car dealers, pizza restaurants)
  • Non-profit groups (women’s club, chamber of commerce, fire department, Rotary Club, Lions Club)
  • Parent organizations (PTA)
  • Athletic organizations (youth football, tennis clubs, fitness clubs)
  • Charities (National Charity League)

These organizations often have a connection with the local high school. They either work with students or sell products to them or their parents.

Another source of local scholarships is its residents, usually wealthy ones. These are individuals or families who have lived in the town for a long time or who have a connection to the community. Scholarships are one of the ways they give back to the community.

How Do You Qualify?

There are several layers to qualifying for local scholarships.

As I mentioned before, first you need to be a resident of your city or town. That should be pretty easy.

Next you need to meet the sponsor’s criteria. Many local scholarship sponsors often set up scholarships for students with interests, abilities, or qualities similar to themselves. And those interests don’t always involve grades.

For example, a medical organization may be interested in students who will major in the medical field. Arts organizations may be interested in students pursuing a career in the arts. You see where I’m going here.

These additional qualifications can be very specific, and sometimes even strange. One of my favorites was a scholarship for students who “go up the down staircase.” You may know someone like that.

The scholarships that are offered will depend on what’s important to the people who live and work in the community. With so many different organizations offering scholarships, there’s going to be a wide variety of ways to qualify.

Ways to qualify for scholarships

Here are some examples:

  • Community service
  • Hobbies
  • Interests and passions
  • Students who work or support their families
  • Athletic interests
  • Ethnicity/heritage
  • Club membership
  • Son or daughter of someone who is a member of a particular group or who works at a local company

OK, But What About Grades?

Yes, it’s true. Many scholarships want students with good grades. But here’s the thing; many are not looking for an A+ student.

Most organizations look for students within a grade range, often “B” or “C” or above. They know that only a small group of students may meet all their criteria. If they required students to have super high grades, it’s possible that no students would qualify.

Many scholarships don’t look at grades at all. Again, local scholarships tend to reflect their sponsors. Some of these sponsors may not have been great students themselves and believe that everyone should have the opportunity for a college scholarship.

Financial Need

To qualify for some, but not all local scholarships, you must have financial need. After all, they’re awarding money.

The good news is that, according to the government (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015) between 80% and 90% of students receive some sort of financial aid. This means that most students will meet that qualification. A scholarship committee may take into account the amount financial need a student has.

Why Your Chances of Winning a Local Scholarship are Better Than You Think

Here are three reasons why you may have a good chance of getting a local scholarship and why you should apply.

  1. Small Pool

What’s great about local scholarships is that the pool of students starts small. You compete only against members of your class. Now, if you attend a large high school, this is less of a factor. Compared to national scholarships, however, you’re chances are still much better.

  1. Students Don’t Complete the Application

Most local organizations ask the staff at their local high school to select a student for their scholarship. They don’t want to get involved in a time-consuming application process. And since the school knows the students, they can also make sure that the recipient doesn’t have any bad history that could be embarrassing.

To make the process easier, most high schools create a common application form for the majority of their local scholarships. Any student who wants to apply has to only fill out one form. This will save you a lot of time.

Here’s what amazing: many students don’t even fill it out.

Either they didn’t know about it, thought they wouldn’t qualify, or were too lazy to submit it.

And that makes the student pool even smaller.

  1. Narrow Range of Criteria

The criteria to qualify for local scholarships are often very specific. This, again, makes even fewer students able to qualify for certain scholarships. (I’ve been in many scholarships meetings where we had to stretch the criteria to find a student that qualified.)

Here’s an example. Let’s say the local runners’ organization offers two local scholarships, one for a female and one for a male. To qualify, you have to be a runner.

If you’re the only graduating female on the cross-country team, the chances of your receiving that scholarship are outstanding.

What’s important is you need to apply. If you haven’t submitted an application, then your chances go down to zero.


As you can see, the laws of probability are on your side when it comes to local scholarships. Here’s how to maximize your chances of receiving one.

Step 1 – Get a list of the available scholarships.

This will give you an idea as to what the criteria are and what scholarships you may qualify for.

Here are a few ways you may be able to find out what local scholarships are offered at your high school.

  • Check your high school’s website.

Look for a menu option for the guidance or counseling department. There’s usually a section devoted to college or post-secondary opportunities. Look for a list of local scholarships.

  • Online college records tool.

Most high schools use software to handle college information, transcripts, and application records. A popular one is Naviance. Some schools also use them to communicate important college information to students including their local scholarship information.

  • Local Scholarship Application

Some schools put their local scholarship application on their websites. You can get an idea of some of the requirements from the information they ask you to provide.

  • Guidance counselor talking with a studentAsk Your Guidance Counselor.

If the above options fail, talk to your guidance counselor. Begin the conversation by asking about ways to get money for college. You’ll probably hear not only about local scholarships, but also about other ideas on how to pay for college.

Once you have the list, read through them and look for which scholarships you might qualify for.

Step 2 – Complete the Application

Find out where to get an application, get it, and complete it. Make sure you submit it by the due date.

Include any information that shows your eligible for any of the scholarships. You want whoever reads your application be able to match your qualifications to a particular scholarship.

The application may also require information from your FAFSA Student Aid Report, in particular, your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). This tells the committee how much financial need you have. This information is important for scholarships with financial need as a requirement.

If you handwrite your application, remember neatness counts. Put thought and effort into your answers. I’ve sat on many scholarship committees and believe me, this is important. People want to know that you respect the process and their time.

Surprisingly, many students think these applications are just another form to complete. They don’t realize people will compare their answers to others. A thoughtful, neat application will make you stand out.

Step 3 – Talk to Your Guidance Counselor

Guidance counselors are part of the local scholarship selection committee at almost every high school. If they’re familiar with your application, they can advocate for you in the meeting.

Once your application is complete, show it to your guidance counselor. Ask them what they think and if there’s anything else you should include. Let them know of any financial hardships or difficult situations your family is going through.


Local scholarships are a great source of money for college. The pool of students is small, and many scholarship sponsors want students with specific qualities. Both of these factors make it easier for you to qualify.

Although we can’t guarantee you’ll receive a local scholarship, you can use the strategies we’ve outlined above to give yourself the greatest chance of getting one.