We get a lot of questions about “outside scholarships” to help pay for college. Will my child get a scholarship because he or she is left handed? Will my child get a scholarship because he or she has allergies? Will my child get a scholarship because he or she is the great-great-grandchild of Abraham Lincoln’s best friend’s niece?

The first two questions are legitimate, and we get those questions multiple times per year. But as ridiculous as the last question may sound, some people seem to think there is a full-tuition scholarship out there for everything, and that this is the best way to pay for college.

At every workshop, Mike talks about the best places to get “free money” for a student’s tuition and room and board. Most people do not realize that the absolute number one place to get scholarship money is not the federal government, not the local YMCA’s yearly scholarship fund, and certainly not the high school’s guidance department. The number one place is from the colleges and universities themselves.

Only 4% of scholarships given out every year come from private sources. This number is surprising to most families, especially when there is a misconception that there are so many scholarships available outside of the colleges and universities. In reality, most of these scholarships pale in comparison to a merit scholarship offer coming directly from a college itself, when the right student applies to the right school.

Our financial aid search tool, part of the student’s Career Cruising account, makes it easier for both students and parents to find private scholarships that they may be eligible for. Each scholarship may require a different essay, a different application, and potentially an additional interview. If families have the time to complete all of this, it may be worth a shot.

However, we stress at Ensphere that finding a student’s “right-fit” college is the process of matching the right student to the right school based on multiple factors. Are you eligible for financial aid? Do your income and assets make you unqualified at most colleges? These are questions that need to be asked when applying to colleges, and it certainly helps to know ahead of time which schools give the best merit aid for certain situations. Most colleges list their scholarships online, but to how many students do they actually give these scholarships? Over 10 years of seeing all kinds of scholarship offers from different schools for all kinds of students gives us the edge in knowing which schools give the best aid, and to which students. Need to fine-tune your family’s college funding plan? Click here to get on our calendar.

Your best bet has been, and will continue to be, to match the student to the right school to get the most scholarship money. The right colleges will give a good offer to the student that matches the profile they want.