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10 Ways to Nab a Scholarship to Pay for College

With rising college costs, here are some places where students and parents can look for scholarships.

With rising college costs, here are some places where students and parents can look for scholarships. ​

Private Scholarships Offer Billions Each Year

While universities provide the bulk of scholarship awards to college students, there are still thousands of dollars up for grabs through private scholarships.

An estimated $6 billion​ in private scholarships is paid out annually to undergraduates, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. ​To find a private or institutional scholarship, follow these 10 tips.

Earn a Merit Scholarship

Merit aid, which can take the form of scholarships or grants, is linked to academic performance and other accomplishments and is not financial need-based.

Academic scholarships are often awarded by a school or private organization, sometimes based on performing well on a standardized test, such as the ACT or SAT or a student's potential.

Enter a Scholarship Sweepstakes

One of the easiest ways to land a scholarship is through a sweepstakes competition. Simply enter in the asked-for information, answer a few short questions and the application is entered to win scholarship money.

There is no charge for these contests, but applicants may have to deal with a lot of marketing material being sent to their address. Plus, thousands – if not millions – enter these contests, scholarship experts say.

Write an Award-Winning Essay

Essay competitions with small prizes are less competitive because most students don't like applying for these scholarships, says Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid researcher and publisher of Cappex.com, a free scholarships search site.

"Consider the odds of only 10 applications for a $500 prize," says Kantrowitz.​ "That work comes out to $50 an hour if the student spent 10 hours on it."

Use a Free Scholarship Search Site

There are many online scholarship databases, such as Chegg or FindTuition.com, to help students connect and match with scholarship awards.

The more information a student enters, the increased odds of landing one or more scholarships, experts say. It's important to answer all the optional questions to increase the odds of matching with a scholarship – especially for the lesser known ones, says Kantrowitz.

Grab a Scholarship in the STEM Fields

Over the last few years, the availability of scholarships in STEM Fields is on the rise. These scholarships allow students to showcase their talent and creativity in practical ways and most often don't require an essay.

Students with scientific ability can showcase their creativity in online science competitions, such as the Google Science Fair, which awards a $50,000 scholarship as the grand prize.

Apply to Scholarships Based on Your Major

There are scholarships available for students enrolled in a specific major, from education and biology to mechanical engineering.

Students pursuing a nursing degree, for example, can apply for a range of award money, such as the Church of the Brethren nursing scholarship, which offers up to $2,000 per recipient.

Take Advantage of Employer Scholarships

This type of scholarship has been around for some time, but can be forgotten in the era of online scholarship searches.

Many companies – from Taco Bell to ExxonMobil – offer scholarships to a child of an employee. And these types of programs aren't limited to the private sector. If a parent works for the federal government, the child may be eligible for the Federal Employee Education Assistance Fund, a national scholarship competition.

Tap into Your Athletic Ability

Not all scholarships to athletes are given directly by a NCAA Division school. High school athletes can also find money to support their academics through private scholarships.

One private scholarship, the Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year, offers an athletic scholarship to high school seniors with a 3.2 GPA, plus a free trip to Disney World.

Use Creativity and Talent for Nontraditional Scholarships

For students who enjoy the spotlight, there are specialized scholarships for acting, dancing and music. Musicians, for example, can compete in many ways for a scholarship, sending samples of their vocal or instrumental talent to competitions.

And if you're talent isn't in the performing arts, there are scholarships in other areas from visual arts to cooking.

Ask Your College About Institutional Scholarships

Applying early is one way to improve your odds of receiving grant aid from an institution, financial aid experts say.

In fact, the largest increase in aid to undergraduates has been in institutional grants, which has jumped up by $9.6 billion in awards over the last five years – a 32 percent hike in funding, according to a 2015 report from the College Board.

Learn More on Finding a Scholarship to Pay for College

The search to find a college scholarship shouldn't end here. Follow the Scholarship Coach blog for information on where to find awards that fit your academic and extracurricular interests.

You can also follow U.S. News Education on Facebook and Twitter to join the conversation and stay informed about the latest tips and advice on paying for college.

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