Although they amount to less than 4 percent of the grant and scholarship money awarded to undergraduates, private scholarships from civic groups like the Elks Club and corporations like Coca-Cola and Target nonetheless total more than $4 billion.

Outside scholarships are portable, which means the student can use them at the college or university of his or her choice. They’re usually not based on financial need, so they’re especially welcome to students who don’t qualify for much need-based aid, but whose families still struggle to find cash for college. And the awards aren’t just for head-of-the-class students with high SAT scores and a long list of extracurricular activities. There’s also plenty of scholarship money allotted for recognizing outstanding accomplishments in arts, science, writing, community service, and other endeavors. Burger King even sponsors a scholarship that’s not for the highest achievers. It’s designed for students who may be sacrificing academics to work part-time out of financial need. Here’s a sampling:

Academics and leadership

  • Coca-Cola Scholars
    Winners excel in academics, community service, employment, and leadership in school activities. Fifty recipients earn $20,000 scholarships, while 200 others earn $4,000.
  • TheDream.US is a national scholarship fund for DREAMers. You may be eligible to apply if you are a CUNY student or intend to enroll by Fall 2015; and are a first-time college student or community college graduate who is an immigrant and has applied for or received DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or TPS (Temporary Protected Status).
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
    Scholarships available for pan-Asian undocumented people. For more information visit
  • Point Foundation
    Scholarships are open to LGBTQ students seeking financial help for undergraduate or graduate school. Candidates must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership skills, community involvement and financial need. For more information on requirements, deadlines and how to apply visit
  • National Merit Scholarship Awards
    About 8,200 finalists are selected from top-scorers on the PSAT. All earn a $2,500 scholarship, and some are awarded additional scholarship money from their schools or from corporate foundations.
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid for Minorities
    Minority students who receive federal grants and loans to help finance their college educations often could use some additional funding to help them bridge financial gaps. Scholarships for minorities are of tremendous help to these students, but finding the right scholarships to apply to is not always an easy task. To help you in your search for additional funding, we have compiled a list of some of the top minority scholarships.

The arts and writing

Public speaking

Community service

  • Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
    Prudential looks for students who have performed exemplary community service. More than 100 state winners earn $1,000. Ten national winners are awarded an additional $5,000.
  • Target All-Around Scholarship Awards
    The retailer rewards students with a record of outstanding community service. There’s one $25,000 award and 600 awards of $1,000.


  • Ascend Education Fund
    The Ascend Educational Fund will award scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to immigrant students and children of immigrants who are graduating from a New York City high school to attend public or private colleges and universities, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status.

Scholarship CriteriaStudents will be eligible for the scholarships if they:

  • Were born outside the United States or have two foreign-born parents
  • Will graduate from a high school in New York City
  • Will enroll full-time at an accredited public or private college or university
  • Demonstrate qualities traditionally valued by the immigrant community: hard work, resourcefulness, perseverance in the face of adversity, academic achievement, leadership, and commitment to one’s community
  • Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship
    College sophomores and juniors must have a significant record of service for environmental causes or, for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, a commitment to tribal public policy or healthcare. Scholarships of up to $5,000 go to 80 winners.
  • The Myself Third: Spirit of New York Scholarship
    The competition was established in 2002 in tribute to the idealism and spirit of those who participated in the rescue effort following the World Trade Center tragedy. The scholarships, made possible through a generous gift by City College alumnus Robert Friedman, seek to encourage and reward civic involvement of high school students.

How to get private scholarships

To get a leg up on the competition, scholarship applicants should strive to become junior movers and shakers. Judges aren’t expecting a long list of extracurriculars. Instead, they’re looking for accomplishments that rise above the crowd: a community service project that has real impact, for instance, or participation in activities that show a true commitment to music, art, or a particular area of study.

Many competitions require an essay outlining what the student has accomplished and what it has meant to him or her. The winning compositions are typically polished and personal, with earnest detail about what it’s like to, say, overcome a crisis, or what it felt like to help build a home for the less fortunate.

You’ll need plenty of time to work on applications and draft a compelling essay. It might help to study what prior winners have written. Scholarship sponsors sometimes post information about winners or even the entries on their websites. Or you can ask for copies of the winning essays. You may even want to ask a teacher or counselor to critique your essay. The Scholarship Scouting Report (Harper, $21.95) details winning entries for several dozen top competitions. Be sure to pay attention to eligibility criteria, contest rules, and deadlines. You don’t want to waste your effort on an application that gets thrown out on a technicality.

The competition for the big national scholarships can be fierce. The Coca-Cola Scholars program, for instance, gets more than 91,000 applications each year for its 250 awards. The Internet is the easiest place to begin scouting for scholarships. FastWeb is the best-known scholarship search service, but users have to put up with lots of ads. After filling out a questionnaire, a student receives regular emails noting applicable scholarships and deadlines. Other search services include CollegeNET and the College Board.

Be forewarned: The big search services probably won’t include local scholarships. While the awards may be small, the competition probably won’t be as stiff as the national contests because there may be only a handful of applicants. Some places to tap for local scholarship information: your high school guidance counselor, your employer or your parent’s employer, professional associations in the field you plan to study, unions (if you or your parents belong to one), and community and civic groups like the Elks, Jaycees, Kiwanis, Lions, or Rotarians.

While a majority of scholarships are earmarked for entering freshmen, plenty of awards are open to upperclassmen. So once you’re in college, keep in touch with your school’s financial aid office and your academic department to learn about scholarships open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Aid from the armed forces

Think it’s tough to get into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton? Then try West Point (, the U.S. Naval Academy (, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (, which accept just 7 percent to 10 percent of their applicants. An applicant’s grades, SAT or ACT scores, athletic ability, and leadership potential must be impressive enough to garner a nomination from a U.S. Senator or Representative. Students who are admitted to any of the service academies-the U.S. Air Force Academy ( and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy ( are the other two-get a first-rate education along with military training. There are no tuition or room and board charges. Instead, the applicants pay for their schooling with minimum five-year service commitments.

Students might also want to consider the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarship. Applications can be found online: the U.S. Army (, U.S. Air Force (, and U.S. Navy ( Students who are selected for the scholarships typically have above-average SAT scores, rank in the top quarter of their high school class, and have been leaders in an extracurricular activity or sport. The military pays most or all of the student’s tuition and also provides allowances for books, fees, and living expenses. Many colleges with ROTC programs offer additional incentives that cover any remaining tuition and/or room and board. Upon graduation, the minimum service commitment is four years full time or longer for part-time service in the Reserves or National Guard. There are also ways to earn a college degree during or after a tour in the military, with Uncle Sam footing most of the bill.