Scholarships are great — they’re basically free money! Unlike loans, they don’t need to be repaid, and unlike work-study, they don’t require you to actually put in hours (other than the time it takes to apply) to earn them.
There’s no excuse not to apply to them, either. Not having a perfect unweighted 4.0 doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible to receive scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships available each year, and many of them aren’t purely merit based. Sure, some are for students with stellar academics, but others are for people with specific interests, hobbies, background, philosophies, and more.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics of how to find scholarships that might work for you, and how to apply to them once you’ve found them.
Find Potential Scholarships:
There are an incredible number of resources to help you find scholarships. There are quite a few websites to help you find scholarships online; this article by USAToday.com includes ten of the best. You should also get in touch with your high school’s college counselor and the college you’ll be attending (once you know what that is) to ask about scholarships.
Go through fairly quickly at first, ruling out any scholarships that definitely won’t work for you and making a note of those that might. It should be fairly easy to come up with quite a few scholarships that have potential.
Narrow Down the List:
Once you have a base list of potential scholarships, go through in more detail, checking the “fine print” of each one. You may find that you don’t qualify for some that you initially thought might work for you. For example, a scholarship advertised as being for engineering students may turn out to be for electrical engineers instead of civil engineers.
If the number of scholarships is still overwhelming, you can begin ruling them out based on other factors, such as their potential benefit versus cost (in time and energy). If there’s a scholarship for $500, but it seems fairly unlikely that you’ll get it, and the required essays would take you hours and hours to complete, it may not be worth applying. When making decisions like this, you’ll need to take your financial situation and available time and resources into account, so the decisions will be very personal to your case.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of scholarships to those that you’ll actually apply for, create a spreadsheet containing all of these scholarships. Arrange your spreadsheet by deadline date to make sure you don’t accidentally let a particular scholarship slip through the cracks by forgetting when it’s due.
In your spreadsheet, include all the other information you can about the scholarship. What’s its name, and what organization offers it? How much is it for? When will successful applicants be notified? What do you need to submit in your application? How should the application be submitted?
Minimize Your Effort:
Go through the spreadsheet you’ve created and compare the requirements for each scholarship. If several of them need the same documents (such as your transcript or two letters of recommendation), make a note of this so that you can collect the right number of copies all at once instead of needing to obtain the documents separately for each scholarship.
Similarly, you may find that several of the scholarships require essays on similar topics. While you should absolutely tailor your essays to each scholarship, you can write one essay that addresses those similar topics and then just partially rewrite it for each scholarship.
Take Care of Final Details:
Proofread everything. Then proofread it again. Simple typos can come across as sloppiness or carelessness, neither of which is likely to encourage those making the decisions to award you the scholarship.
Make a copy of your entire application for each scholarship, and keep these somewhere safe. If anything gets lost or misplaced, you’ll be able to resubmit it easily.
Submit Your Applications:
Submit each application before the due date and in exactly the way the scholarship requests (whether that’s in hard copy, online, by email, or some combination). Include exactly the materials requested, and double-check the requirements for the scholarship to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.