TYPES OF SCHOLARSHIPS
The scholarship application process can be broken down into four main steps:
How you approach each step will determine your effectiveness. A cohesive strategy for each step will save you time and ensure you apply to the scholarships with the highest odds.
Prepare well before the scholarship application deadline. Since most scholarships are merit-based, past performance matters. A documented history of your experiences, lessons learned, and accomplishments will come in handy when writing essays or preparing for interviews. Find out what makes the difference with scholarship reviewers and plan ahead.
UNDERSTAND WHAT SCHOLARSHIP COMMITTEES LOOK FOR
Scholarships are competitive. Very small differences in candidates’ backgrounds often make the difference. Scholarships tend to prefer candidates who are well rounded, meaning the candidates demonstrate they have pursued and excelled in several areas other than just academics.
Grades are important, but extracurricular activities also matter because they show your varied interests and dedication to learning skills or providing service outside of the classroom.
STUDY AND PREPARE FOR THE ACT/SAT
Like it or not, in the eyes of reviewers the score you get on these tests is one of the best predictors of not only your raw intelligence, but also how you work and prepare. ACT and SAT test-preparation courses are often worth the added expense.
ONLY PURSUE EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES YOU’LL PARTAKE IN
Extracurricular activities is a catchall term for anything you might be interested in outside of class. Sports are popular and demonstrate teamwork and perseverance. Band, drama club, chess, debate, and student government are also good choices, but almost anything can do as long as you show a genuine interest in the activity.
No matter what your interests or extracurricular activities are, there is likely a scholarship for you. Instead of choosing activities that might “look good” on an application, choose activities you’re genuinely interested in and ensure you take active part in it. Your enthusiasm will stand out much more vividly in your application. Focus on quality over quantity of your experience. Providing a detailed description of how an experience shaped you will get you further than listing 20 activities where you were a non-participant.
COLLECT AND ORGANIZE ALL YOUR RELEVANT INFORMATION
Here is where you document your grades, activities, accomplishments, and other important information for use later in the application process. Don’t limit your documentation to only statistics. Commentary can be particularly impactful in an essay, particularly if there is a story of a lesson learned from a significant experience in your life. You can organize this into a running collection of your accomplishments, similar to how professionals use resumes.
Set up a document to use during your scholarship search. Input information like scholarship name, website, and deadline date for easy referral.
Now that you are prepared, understanding where to search and what to look for will help you find scholarships for which you qualify and offer you the best chance to win.
SEARCH EARLY AND OFTEN
The scholarship application process is time-consuming, so it pays to start your search early to give yourself enough time to find, assess, and apply before the deadlines. Searching often helps you keep up on any new scholarship opportunities. Free scholarship search tools are updated often. A regular scan helps you respond to a new scholarship quickly.
Focus on quantity
Your objective in the search should be to generate a large number of potential scholarships in a small amount of time. There is no limit to the number of scholarships you can win, so a high number is key. You will spend time targeting high-value scholarships in the next step, but for now capture as many options as you can that apply to you.
TARGET HIGH-VALUE SCHOLARSHIPS
Once you have generated a good list, prioritize which scholarships you will apply to. Organize your list by identifying high-value scholarships. This will help you make sure you have time to apply to the best scholarships first so you don’t miss any important deadlines. High-value scholarships usually have some combination of these three traits:
Relevance to your background, interests, ethnic makeup, or financial needs
A high dollar amount
Feasibility — you already have the required information and can meet the deadline
A scholarship application usually consists of more than just filling out a form. Many times, scholarships reviewers use essays, letters of recommendation, and even interviews to make their decisions. Each application is different, but the #1 mistake people make is not reading the directions.
DEADLINES: WHEN TO START THE PROCESS
Every scholarship has its own application deadline. Many times, the deadline is six months to even one year before the scholarship is awarded, so start as early as possible. Some types of scholarships, especially first-year scholarships from universities, have rolling deadlines that coincide with the admission deadlines. In this case, getting your application in early will increase your chances of winning. However, if you don’t get the application in on time, scholarships are often given on an annual basis, which means even if you missed out the first year, you can apply again next year.
One more note on deadlines: Aim to submit your application 2-3 days before the deadline. You don’t want computer glitches, freezing, or crashing to cause you to miss the deadline. The added time cushion will allow you to recover if you encounter a problem.
I WON! HOW WILL THIS SCHOLARSHIP AFFECT MY OTHER STUDENT AID?
Once you win a scholarship, make sure to notify your school’s financial aid department. If you have other grants, scholarships, or certain student loans, the total aid cannot be more than the cost of your tuition.
Certain scholarships specify the funds be used for room and board, books, or other expenses, so make sure you understand the terms. Your financial aid office should be more than equipped to help you through this process. Once you’ve maxed out on your scholarships, you may need to move on to finding the best student loans to fund the rest of your college time. Best of luck!
TIPS FOR WRITING SCHOLARSHIP ESSAYS
Nailing an essay with interesting, personal, and impassioned stories can be the key to cashing in on a scholarship opportunity. If you did your preparation work capturing and documenting your academic and extracurricular activities, essay writing will go smoothly.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Another way to differentiate yourself as a scholarship candidate is to request letters of recommendation. These are letters written on your behalf by people who know you and can vouch for some aspect of your work, academic studies, skills, or character. Someone who can articulately write about a cross-section of these attributes is best. These people could be coaches, teachers, bosses, or family friends.
TIPS FOR SCHOLARSHIP INTERVIEWS
Not every scholarship requires a resume, but the most lucrative and competitive ones do. The good news is this process will help you down the road as you do more interviewing in your career. As with any skill, practice and preparation are key.
TIPS FOR FORMATTING A SCHOLARSHIP RESUME
As the cost of college tuition and associated expenses rises, more and more students attempt to take advantage of available scholarships and financial aid. Thousands of scholarships are available to all segments of the population and to people with almost any interest and talent. A successful scholarship search requires that you carefully target your resume and application to stand out from other applicants. Preparing a resume for a scholarship is not significantly different from any other resume that a high school or college student might need. Click on the link below to download a scholarship application resume, which has been designed with the high school student in mind.