How to Find Scholarship Programs

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I have always been a believer of the saying “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” This was my mantra more than a decade ago when I was trying look for ways to finance my college education. As I’ve shared in this blog before, education was my way out of poverty. Despite the fact that I’m not exceptionally intelligent nor especially talented, I was able to find a way to finish my undergraduate years in one of the Philippines’ top university as a full scholar. Because of this opportunity, I was able to slowly but surely build myself up, help my siblings with their education, and elevate my and my family’s lives. 


What I didn’t share before was that before I got my athletic scholarship, I was desperately looking for scholarship programs only the summer before freshman year started. I didn’t have any idea what scholarship programs were available. I only thought that scholarships were only for the smartest students (which I certainly wasn’t).  I didn’t have any guidance, and I didn’t have access to the internet then (because we couldn’t afford it). 


What I didn’t know was that actually, there are scholarship positions for all kinds of students. 


In this post, I will share some of the “hidden” scholarship opportunities that I have come across since that fateful summer almost a lifetime ago. 


Please note that take advantage of these opportunities, time and proper preparation are key. If you are a young person preparing for college or are the parent of one, please remember that even though these scholarship opportunities are outside of the usual avenues, most still have requirements that the students need to fulfill, such as a GPA threshold upon application, maintaining GPA levels, etc.

Working student programs with your university

Most (private and even some public) universities grant full tuition fee scholarships to students who are accepted to work on campus. Some programs even give a little stipend to students on top of the tuition fee waiver.


These working students are usually stationed to man the libraries, work as assistants in the faculty office, and perform some clerical tasks for university administrators. 


Most universities require that the working students have high (not necessarily honors-level high) grades, which I think they take as an indication that the applicant would be able to juggle their responsibilities without their studies being adversely affected. After all, the student’s main job at university is to study and complete their coursework. 


Most of the time, working student positions are not advertised or announced. Applicant have to inquire directly with the office responsible for the positions. That office is likely the university’s  Student Affairs office. 


If you are a freshman, make sure to inquire as soon as you receive your acceptance letter. Do not delay because positions are usually filled fast.

Athletic or artistic scholarship

If you have an aptitude in sports or the arts, you might be able to capitalize on your skills and talent to get free college education. 


Many universities, especially those who are active in inter-collegiate sports competitions such as the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and Women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (WNCAA), among others, offer scholarships to their athletes, especially at the college level. 


Although most of the time, universities have their own scouts that recruit athletes and artists all over the country, many of the teams still hold open testings and auditions on campus. 


Scholarship offerings vary by university and by event but those who are recruited to be part of the main team of the top universities are offered at least 100% scholarships. If you manage to be recruited by one of the schools with a lot of money allotted to their athletic programs, you can even get a monthly allowance and even housing subsidy. 


Even if you don’t make it to the main team and become part of the reserve team (or Team B as many of them are called), you would still be eligible to at least a partial scholarship.


Of course this kind of scholarship is not something you just stumble into during the summer before freshman year. Many athletes and artists have at least a few years of experience behind them to be recruited into a college sports, dance, or cheerleading team. 


If your child is interested in sports, dance, or other performance art, consider supporting their interest and encourage them to elevate their skills further. Don’t consider these activities as only a waste of time. If your kid becomes good enough, these skills can be their ticket to a free university education.


Local industrialist, businessman, politician

When I was a child in Negros Occidental, it was common for some plantation owner (also known as haciendero) to sponsor the college education of the more intelligent or talented children of their workers. Although most of these hacienderos sponsor students attending seminaries with a view of eventually joining the priesthood (to dispel bad karma for their family’s exploitation of poor people for centuries, most likely), they also sponsor those who wanted to be teachers and nurses, among others. 


While there are no longer that many hacienderos these days, you can identify other well-off members of your community that you can approach to sponsor your college education. It might be the local factory owner, businessman, or even members of political clans. Even if you live outside of a large city, there are people who have more than enough resources to help subsidize at least a portion of your college fees. 


Don’t look at it as a begging; look at it as an opportunity for the industrialist/businessman/politician to give back to society and their community by sponsoring an intelligent and talented young person. You can be their walking and talking trophy that they can look at to assure themselves that they are not just profiting off impoverished people. They can sometimes help poor people too. You’re actually doing them a huge favor.

Your Local Government Unit (LGU)

Many local government units run their own scholarship programs with varying consistency. Always check your City Hall or Governor’s Office for any support programs for students they are running. 


Many don’t know that many municipalities and cities, let alone provinces, have huge budgets. It is reasonable to assume that at least some portion of these budgets are allocated to support the education of their citizens, including college students. 


Even my small city in Negros was able to provide an allowance to fund my participation to a quiz bee contest held in another province. One acquaintance was able to request fare money plus allowance to be to take a very important test in Manila. 


Of course, the key here is to find out who to contact in the LGU and learn how the internal process works. So do your research as early as possible. You might need to befriend somebody within the city or provincial hall.


Many major cities in Metro Manila are also starting to fund and build their own universities. These are very good options as well and cost very little money. 


Foreign embassy websites

Those who dream of studying abroad should frequently check the announcements on the websites of foreign embassies in Manila for scholarships. Although most of these scholarships are for graduate and post-graduate positions, undergraduate slots also come up from time to time. 


I know of several people who were able to finish their undergraduate degrees in Japan and Korea with the help of scholarships given by the Japanese and Korean governments. I’m very sure other developed countries have their counterpart programs (Fulbright, Chevening, etc.)


If you’re brave and independent enough to consider studying and living overseas, scholarships by foreign governments should be perfect for you. 


Of course, this type of scholarship has lots of requirements, including top grades, foreign language skills (although many offer programs in English), and a long and complicated application and interview process. 


Final Tips

One of the greatest dreams of Filipino parents is to see their children on stage to accept their college diplomas. For many, this dream is out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be. As long as the you are motivated, teachable, and reasonably intelligent, there are ways to get a college education.  


Don’t believe the current narrative in Western countries that college is a waste of time. For us in developing countries, education is our ticket out of poverty and more financially stable life. 


As I keep on reiterating in this post, research and preparation are key. Get high grades, learn how to learn, be resourceful. 


Also, if you haven’t yet, read these posts for more:


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Katie Scarlett

is a personal finance advocate working towards achieving financial independence and early retirement (FIRE).

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