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Home Scholarships College Scholarships How to Get a Scholarship

How to Get a Scholarship

When it comes to getting a scholarship, you should understand how to find the best ones for you, be able to put forth your best application, and then understand what happens when you win.  Scholarships are a form of gift-aid, meaning it’s money you don’t have to pay back, except in very rare instances.  With scholarships being “free” money, it makes them very desirable and therefore the competition for scholarships can be fierce, so know it might take some work and effort.  

Scholarships come in all forms and sizes. They can vary widely in the amount awarded from as little as a couple hundred dollars to full rides, which cover most, if not all, of the cost of attending college. They can be based on academics, athletics, demographics, or even won via a sweepstakes. There’s no shortage of opportunities to pursue. While it can be overwhelming to know where to start, we can help you organize your efforts to give you the best chances of winning as much college money as you can.

Finding a Scholarship

Given there are quite a few scholarships to apply to, try to be selective in the scholarships you decide to pursue and match them to your strengths, skills, traits, and interests. The more scholarships you apply to, the more likely you are to receive some money to help pay for school. 

More>>> Weird, Unusual, and Unique College Scholarships

Read the Terms and Conditions

A piece of advice is to look at the scholarship’s eligibility requirements and guidelines before beginning your application (as some can be time consuming). It can be disheartening to fill out an application only to realize you don’t qualify by the time you get to the end. By checking the requirements beforehand, you can save yourself time in the long run.

One of the best places to begin looking for scholarships, is to contact the school you are applying to and see what they offer.  After that, consider your local community and current affiliations (such as memberships in organizations, etc.) to see if they are offering scholarships you qualify for.  Finally, there is always the internet.  

School-Specific Scholarships

Schools often want to assist students who need financial help.  Many have access to scholarships that are set aside for certain majors or areas of study. Check with the financial aid office of your school or the schools you are applying to, to find out what could be available for you.  Additionally, colleges and universities often offer merit scholarships for incoming freshmen who have high GPAs or SAT/ACT test scores. 

Check with the school’s website or talk to the financial aid office, they may require you to complete the FAFSA or another financial aid application to award you a merit scholarship. This is not a situation that you want to assume that you don’t need to complete the FAFSA, even if you aren’t relying on financial aid to pay for college. 

Find Local Scholarships

Not only are there scholarships online, but there may be local opportunities that you don’t even know exist.  Check with your high school guidance counselor for a list of local scholarships. Some school alumni associations or school districts will offer scholarships to graduating students. Local scholarships are usually for a smaller pool of students, and the fewer the applications, the better your chances to win if you meet all the eligibility criteria. If you do qualify,  you don’t want to miss out on these opportunities. 

Don’t be shy, be vocal and ask parents, teachers, mentors, and coworkers about possible scholarships they know about. Look for local scholarships with your church, place where you work or volunteer, local chapters of groups or organizations, where you or your parents may have a membership or affiliation, and even check where your parents/guardians work. 

Scholarship Sites Online

If you go online and search for college scholarships, you will get pages and pages of results which can be too much to filter through. This search can be overwhelming, but there are a number of scholarship data bases and search sites like our site, StudentScholarshipSearch that can speed up and streamline your hunt by asking you a few questions that will match you to prospective scholarships. 

Try to update your profile yearly, as your qualifying factors may change. By having the most current information, these sites can pull relevant scholarships to help you apply for the ones you have the greatest odds of winning. 

Part of your scholarship strategy should be to mix up the types of scholarships you apply to, as far as effort. While there are some scholarships that require essays, while other scholarships are simple, sweepstakes based, and don’t require an essay. For example, the sweepstakes-based scholarships we offer through ScholarshipPoints allows you to earn points to enter into scholarships. Every month ScholarshipPoints has three $1,000 scholarships, and a $10,000 every quarter. 

 Applying for a Scholarship

After you have identified the scholarships that you want to apply for, the best strategy for success is to get organized.  It’s a good idea to make a file or spreadsheet for your scholarship quest and organize entries according to due dates. Set your own due dates for each scholarship and try to give yourself an extra week or two to submit. If the scholarship entry page is open, you don’t have to worry about being too early. 

Try to keep copies of all your documents in case they are lost or corrupted. To stay on track with your scholarship search, you might also want to print out the scholarship application and cross off each portion as you complete it. Applications may require a variety of different items in your submission. 

Many scholarships may request the same information or documentation. It’s helpful to have the following items organized and available for easy access, to move more quickly through the application process:

• ACT/SAT test scores 

• High school transcripts (have copies of both official and unofficial transcripts)

• Personal Resume

• Awards

• Best previously written essays to help write future essays

• At least two individuals who have agreed to write you a letter of recommendation 

Writing a Scholarship Essay

Students are often looking for easy money and frequently skip over scholarships that require essays. Scholarship essays are usually kept to 500 words or less which roughly equates to two double-spaced pages.  

It’s not uncommon for scholarship essays to cover similar topics allowing you to use portions of your previous essays when possible—but be sure to modify your writing based on the scholarship prompt, audience and add some level of customization. For example, you may have two scholarships with the same essay prompt, “What is your greatest strength/weakness?” Well, you just happened to be a talented musician and athlete. One scholarship your soccer coach told you about and is offering $1,000 by your county parks and recreation department, while the other you heard about from your piano teacher which is $1,000 being offered by the state piano association. While you can use the same strength and weakness, you should be customizing each essay for your audience—discuss how you used your strength to overcome your weakness to help you become a better soccer player for the parks and recreation department, and the essay for the piano association should discuss how it made you a better musician or prepare for a performance. 

Before you hit the submit button, think about doing the following checks to make sure your submission is the best it can be: 

1.      Re-read your essay aloud and correct your mistakes

2.      Give yourself some space away from your submission and let your writing sit for a day or two before re-reading it

3.      Come back and review your writing to try and find points missed or areas of confusion

4.      Find a trusted adult to look over the essay prompt and your response and give you final feedback

Once you have written your essay(s), filled out the application and uploaded requested information, you are ready to submit your documents.  Before turning in your application, check it against the given requirements while paying close attention to details such as due dates and essay word counts. This will ensure your submission meets the minimum requirements and you are eligible to potentially win. 

Winning a Scholarship

The early bird gets the worm and the same goes for scholarships. If the scholarship entries are open, there is no reason why you can’t apply before the deadline. Remember, it’s best to give yourself some extra time before all due dates. You don’t want a computer being corrupted, or a late letter of recommendation knock you out of the running for an application. 

Some colleges and states may have scholarship opportunities on a first-come, first serve basis. (Remember to double-check to see what applications are needed to apply!) If your school is known to offer merit scholarships, they may have limited funds. If you are required to submit a FAFSA for merit aid from your school, it’s recommended that you complete your application as soon as it opens—Oct. 1 for all terms that start the following July 1. 

More>>>FAFSA Deadlines

If you don’t receive a confirmation response upon submission of your scholarship application, attempt to reach out after 7-10 days to verify the scholarship provider has received your submission. They may not get back to you with a response depending on the number of applicants. Don’t be discouraged, as this follow-up email is just to show that you are on top of your scholarship game and keep your name visible to the scholarship decision makers. You want to convey to them just how eager you are to win.  

If the scholarship application didn’t indicate a decision date, be aware that scholarship committees typically make final decisions a month or two after the final submission deadline. You should ask for any feedback they have on your application and if there is anything else you can provide to aid them in the decision-making process. They might not respond to you, but any feedback can be useful for future applications. 

Be Mindful of Scholarship Scams

Scholarships are typically free, so be wary if there are costs associated with applying to a scholarship. Gift-aid usually doesn’t require you to pay money to receive money. If a scholarship seems too good to be true, it usually is.

A few tips to stay safe from scams are:

Keep banking or credit card information private. 

Be wary of an online scholarship matching or search tool that require payment to use.

Look for spelling or grammatical errors on the scholarship website.

Be cautious of winning a scholarship you never applied to or heard of.

More>>> Scholarship Scams and How to Report Them

Receiving scholarship money is a helpful way to financially cover the costs of college when federal student aid might not be enough. As you work hard to find and apply to scholarships, you may be discouraged when you don’t win right away.  Remember that each application gives you another chance of earning funds to help chase your dreams. It’s advisable that you make an effort to apply for scholarship funds throughout your college career and be on the lookout for resources to help you on your path to success. 

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