The Yellow Brick Road: How to Find Your Way To Scholarships and Grants

All Dorothy had to do was follow the yellow brick road to get to the land of Oz. Sounds simple enough right? But when many obstacles are thrown her way, she finds herself lost on her quest to return home: dizzy in a field of poppies, escaping a wicked witch’s grasp and finding friends in unlikely places.

Sometimes finding scholarships and grants can seem like a wild goose chase through unmarked roads, secret acquaintances, and backroom deals. But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as Dorothy’s journey to Oz. There are many places to find excellent scholarships if you know where to look!

The Ruby Slippers

Dorothy’s ruby slippers were her ticket out. They are what allowed her to meet Oz. What are your ruby slippers when it comes to finding scholarships?


You may be thinking that this is an odd type of slipper that may not be super comfortable. And on that point, I agree. But persistence is your greatest weapon when it comes to hunting for scholarships.

Scholarships and grants are not easy to attain precisely because of the reward they provide. Both are known as “gift aid” or money that does not have to be repaid. Gift aid may be the difference between a student graduating with a pile of loans or debt-free, leaving this type of aid in high demand.

What is the difference between them? Grants are often given on the basis of financial need and all need-based grants are either gifted at the federal, state, or college level. Scholarships, on the other hand, are given on the basis of merit and are often awarded by private foundations, non-profit organizations, and philanthropists. Merit often comes in the form of academic achievements, sports recognition, volunteer initiatives, and other activity-based accomplishments.

Some of the main areas for scholarships are:

  • Academic. Many institutions will gift money for exemplary GPA and academic performance such as the National Merit Scholarship.
  • Sports. Student-athletes are eligible for many scholarship opportunities and that does not just apply to mainstream football and basketball stars. Many colleges and universities offer athletes scholarships for sports like swimming, track, and tennis. Be open to the huge variety of athletic scholarships out there.
  • Diversity scholarships. There are many scholarship opportunities for diverse and underrepresented students like The Gates Scholarship. This also can apply to first-generation college students where there are many foundations that give support for such an endeavor.
  • Volunteer-based scholarships. Is your student involved in a volunteer group that is making a big impact? There are many scholarship opportunities that award students for outstanding volunteer experiences.

By starting this process as early as possible, you are setting yourself and your children up for a greater possibility of success. Since gift aid does not have to be paid back, they often come with many layers of paperwork, guidelines, tasks, and stipulations. Read all of these clearly so that your student fills them out correctly.

Not In Kansas Anymore

There is not one place to go to find scholarship and grant opportunities. I have put together a list of common avenues to check as you and your student embark on this process.

  • Start local
    • There are many opportunities for local scholarships. These will increase the chance for your student to be awarded one. National scholarships are important but the odds are not strong in their favor due to the volume of applicants.
    • Look at local businesses, non-profits, initiatives, libraries, churches, and schools for opportunities. Many of these smaller institutions have the budget for scholarships, so seek them out!
  • Don’t forget your own school
    • Many schools have scholarships available. This applies to both high school and college students, so keep an eye out for department, major, and college-specific scholarships that are available each year.
    • College visits are a great time to ask school-specific financial questions.
  • National Scholarships
    • While the competition is higher, the scholarship amount is often much greater in national scholarships. If your student qualifies, entering an essay for this type of prize can only help.
    • Examples are Coca-cola, Nordstrom, National Merit, and Gates Millenium.  
  • Scholarship hubs

As you can see there are many paths to finding and attaining the right scholarships for your student’s education. For more creative ways to help pay for college, check out this blog post where we talk about a few misconceptions about college costs. With persistence and patience, you will be able to help your student find ways to supplement their educational expenses, keeping them on the yellow brick road as long as possible.

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