It's never too early to start applying for scholarships. Although senior year is synonymous with searching for college aid, children under 13 and as young as 5 can earn money toward a college education -- and it's more common than you may think.

"There are scholarships available to children in much younger grades," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FastWeb.com and FinAid.org and author of "Secrets to Winning a Scholarship." "It's not very competitive because many parents don't think about it yet."

A scholarship may not give your child a free ride through four or more years of college, but it will defray some of the costs, which can be staggering, depending on which school your child chooses. To cover the expenses of a state or public college, parents would have to save $250 a month from their child's birth on, and double that for a private university, Kantrowitz says.

The types of scholarships available to youngsters cover a broad spectrum of activities, from creating a doodle for Google Inc. to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Jif. Winning once doesn't mean your child is out of the scholarship hunt since there's no cap on how many scholarships children can compete for. With that in mind, here's a look at four scholarships for kids under 13.

Doodle 4 Google

The annual Doodle 4 Google scholarship contest is open to children in kindergarten through 12th grade. To encourage creativity among kids, Google awards the student who creates the winning Google Doodle a $30,000 college scholarship and a $50,000 grant to his or her school to go toward building a technology lab or program. The 2012 winner also received a free trip to New York City, a Chromebook computer, a Wacom digital design tablet and a T-shirt printed with the winning doodle on it.

The four national finalists win a $5,000 educational grant to be used at the school of their choice, a trip to New York City, a Wacom digital design tablet and a T-shirt printed with their doodle on it. The theme of the 2012 contest was "If I could travel in time, I'd visit ... "

Google says it chose that theme because the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet company wanted to give students a blank canvas to imagine the past, present and future.

Contest dates for 2013 had not been announced at Bankrate's date of publication.

Jif Most Creative Sandwich Contest

Have a little chef in the home from ages 6 to 12?

He or she may be able to turn a talent into a $25,000 college scholarship, thanks to the Jif Most Creative Sandwich Contest. Using a Jif peanut butter or Jif hazelnut spread product, contestants have to create a sandwich that will be judged on creativity, taste, visual appeal and ease of preparation.

To be considered for these scholarships for kids under 13, entrants have to submit a completed entry form, the sandwich recipe using the Jif spread, an original name for the sandwich and a photo of the completed sandwich. Four runner-up winners get a $2,500 college fund. Each child is only allowed to submit one sandwich and will be disqualified if they enter more than one. The 2012 winner, 8-year-old Mallory R. of Hilton Head Island, S.C., created the P-Nutty BBQ Chicken Quesadilla. Jif, a unit of Orrville, Ohio-based The J.M. Smuckers Co., has been running the contest for a decade.

Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Having a positive impact on a person or the planet not only feels good but also can get your child scholarship money. Each year, the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes awards as much as $2,500 in cash to 25 young people ages 8 to 18 who have made a positive difference. The winners have to use the money for their higher education or to fund their service project. Past recipients come from all walks and engage in inspiring behavior such as organizing a rodeo for disabled children, providing clean drinking water to African villages and cleaning up South Carolina's beaches.

Entrants are nominated by an adult who has intimate knowledge of the child's work but is not a relative. To be considered, the child has to be working on a project that clearly benefits other people, fellow creatures or the planet. The student may have outside help but the activity has to be mainly the student's own creation to win. The contest places particular emphasis on helping the environment. There's an April 30 deadline for applicants each year.

Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program

Recognizing the importance of volunteering, Kohl's rewards children ages 6 to 18 who volunteer to improve their communities through the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based retailer's Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program. Ten national winners get $10,000 in scholarships for post-secondary education and $1,000 is donated by Kohl's on the winner's behalf to a nonprofit organization. More than 200 regional winners get a $1,000 scholarship. According to Kohl's, this year more than 2,200 children will get more than $420,000 in scholarships and prizes.

One 2012 national winner was 15-year-old Briana Moore of Detroit who collected and delivered food baskets to more than 400 families. Leyla Cook, 11, of Garden Grove, Calif., created a volunteer program to provide a support system for military kids and their families.

Students can't be a high school graduate and have to be nominated by someone age 21 or older during the nomination period of Feb. 1 to March 15, 2013. The student's action has to be described in detail and should demonstrate efforts that went beyond what a child of that age would normally do. The efforts had to have occurred in the previous year. Kohl's chooses the winners based on the project, its benefit and the outcome.

Copyright 2013, Bankrate Inc.