Scholarships are the holy grail of higher education. "If I could just get a scholarship..." "I'm trying to get a scholarship..." "I have to keep my grades up or I'll lose my scholarship..."
Yes, scholarships are great. They're valuable, for starters; they're worth a great deal of money. Every dollar you get in scholarships is a dollar you don't have to pay for college. A "full ride" scholarship can be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year - more at really prestigious schools.
Where are these scholarships? How do you apply? And what can you do to increase your odds? Well, many scholarships are merit-based, so the best thing you can do for these awards is to have good grades and test scores. If you've already finished high school with less than stellar performance, you may not qualify for merit-based scholarships. This sounds like bad news, but it doesn't have to be. You may not qualify for those particular scholarships, but there are many others that are need-based or awarded to certain types of individuals.
Needs-based scholarships are fairly self-explanatory.
"Type" scholarships are a little more complicated. They may go to people from a certain background or location, or people majoring in a certain field. You may find scholarships that are awarded after a competition, such as an essay or photo submission. Even if you don't have the best grades, don't think that scholarships are out of your reach. There are all types of scholarships.
As for finding scholarships, there are many online and print directories that list scholarships, and most of these are free to use (online) or available at your local library (print). You can do your own research for scholarships and make a list of the ones you think you're eligible for and interested in.
You do not need to hire a "scholarship search" service. You can get all the same information yourself, without paying someone else to do the work. Most of these services use the same sources you will use if you do the searching yourself. Each scholarship you apply for will have its own procedures for applying. When you apply for scholarships, follow the instructions for each to the letter. The scholarship committee won't read your application if it's not submitted correctly; they simply don't have time with all the submissions they get.
Many scholarships require essays as part of the application. It's a good idea to practice writing essays and get someone who writes well to tutor you in essay writing. The better your essay, on these scholarship applications, the better your chances at the scholarship.
Frankly, scholarships are hard to get. They're supposed to be. There are fewer of them than loans, and they are a free grant of money, so you should expect that they're going to be selective. No one just hands out money indiscriminately. That said, many people don't apply for scholarships at all because they think they're too hard to get. This is a mistake. You should apply for all you're eligible. If you don't apply, you won't get a scholarship.