Image: Counting coins © Burke, Triolo Productions, Brand X, Corbis, Corbis

It's never too early to start applying for scholarships. Though senior year of high school 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, the publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org and the 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 onward, 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 to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Jif. What's more, 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 gives 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 . . ." This year's theme is "My best day ever . . ."

Submissions will be accepted through March 22.

Jif Most Creative Sandwich Contest

Do you have a little chef between the ages of 6 and 12 in your home?

He or she may be able to turn that 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 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 receive a $2,500 college fund. Each child is allowed to submit only one sandwich. 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 J.M. Smucker, 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 earn 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 must use the money for their higher education or to fund a service project. Past recipients have come from all walks of life, and their projects have included 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 Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program. Ten national winners each receive $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, more than 2,200 children will get more than $420,000 in scholarships and prizes this year.

One 2012 national winner was 15-year-old Brianna 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.

Nominated students cannot have graduated from high school and must be nominated by someone age 21 or older during the nomination period of Feb. 1 to March 15, 2013. The student's action must be described in detail and should demonstrate efforts beyond those typical of an individual that age. The service has to have been performed in the previous year. Kohl's chooses the winners based on the project, its benefit and the outcome.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

More from Bankrate.com: