Skip to main content

Within Reach home


4 easy ways to find non-academic scholarships

College • November 26, 2018 • Reyna Gobel


What you’ll learn

  • Scholarships aren’t just for star students and athletes
  • Who to turn to for help finding scholarships
  • You can get scholarship money by doing things you love


When you’re not a straight-A student or the top athlete in your school, it’s easy to feel like college scholarships aren’t for you. But before you start thinking about borrowing thousands of dollars, consider your skills and other ways you can qualify for free money for college. You may not get a full ride—but every little bit helps!

Here are a few simple ways to look for a college scholarship:

Be first in line

If you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible, you may get awarded more state or university grant funds because you filled out the form before the money ran out.

I’m not kidding—timing matters. I got money for school simply by being the first person in line. TWICE! In my business master’s program, my school offered $1,000 to the first 75 applicants to get accepted during the summer session. It didn’t matter what your GPA was, as long as you qualified for acceptance. In the second year of my undergraduate program, a similar package was available for the summer session, as long as you had a 2.75 GPA or above and were one of the first 75 people in line.

Contact the school’s financial aid office and your high school counselor

The college’s financial aid officer can tell you about local, national, and regional scholarships you might qualify for. And the truth is, many scholarships go unclaimed. Talk to your high school counselor, too. They know a lot about scholarships for high school students and might be able to recommend the ones you’re most likely to get. Essay contests are one area where grades may not matter. It’s all about your writing quality and your passion for the topic.

Look everywhere

Go online and use free tools such as Sallie Mae’s Scholarship Search. Look beyond your GPA and create a profile that includes your skills, hobbies, and interests.

Also, consider your workplace and your parents’ jobs. Many employers offer scholarships for the children of their employees. Your local library may have a scholarship contest. I even know a parent that found a scholarship offer in Costco’s magazine!

There are scholarships out there for everyone

Scholarship requirements are as individual as you are. Many scholarships are created by people and companies looking to reward attributes they admire. Being kind, patriotic, or having an interesting story to tell may get you as much scholarship cash as having a perfect GPA or being an all-star athlete.


Reyna Gobel is a journalist, author, professional speaker, and educator who's been quoted by Money Magazine, Real Simple, and The Washington Post. She’s spoken at hundreds of colleges across the country about student debt—and she’s the author of "CliffsNotes Graduation Debt" and “CliffsNotes Parents’ Guide to Paying for College and Repaying Student Loans.”


Within Reach home

Reyna Gobel was compensated by Sallie Mae for the content in this article. However, all opinions expressed are her own.

Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae.