College  |  December 14, 2021  |  Reyna Gobel

4 easy ways to find non-academic scholarships

What you'll learn
  • Scholarships aren’t just for star students and athletes
  • Who to turn to for help finding non-academic 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 non-merit based college scholarships:

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 non-merit scholarship 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. Scholarship essay contests are one area where grades and academics may not matter. It’s all about your writing quality and your passion for the topic.

Look everywhere for available scholarships

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, background, and interests. If you're a student who identifies as a minority, you may be eligible for minority scholarships.

Get matched with college scholarships

Our free Scholarship Search helps you find scholarships as unique as you are.

• Access to 6 million+ scholarship opps
• Email alerts for new matches

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. Ends 12/31/2022. See Official Rules.

An illustration of a boy doing homework on his bed with a cat on his shoulder

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

Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Sallie Mae makes no claims about the accuracy or adequacy of this information. These materials may not reflect Sallie Mae’s view or endorsement. Consult your own attorney or tax advisor about your specific circumstances. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

*No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries received. See official rules at