How to Win Scholarships
While there is no guaranteed method to winning college scholarships, there are things you can do to increase your chances of winning. Scholarships are free money to help you pay for college, and if you are smart about it, you can find and apply for scholarships that can help offset the cost of college attendance.
You can win scholarships no matter your GPA or ACT/SAT score, and you don’t have to be in your senior year of high school to begin (or to continue) applying to scholarships. Use these tips and tricks to help you put your best foot forward!
Scholarship deadlines can occur anytime throughout the year. Searching for scholarships due in a particular month is a great way to start your search if you’re unsure of where to begin. Looking for scholarships with due dates in the summer can be a smart tactic to capitalize on otherwise distracted students. Their diversions can be your conversion (into paying your way for school, that is!)
Local scholarships tend to favor local students, so you can keep the application pool low by finding local scholarships. Talk to your high school counselor to see what community scholarships may be available. If you are already a college student, talk to the financial aid office or your program department to see if there are any available scholarships.
Seek out organizations that you have a connection to. These could include groups that fall under your major umbrella (i.e., if you’re going into communication, you may apply for scholarships sponsored by professional associations, societies, unions or organizations that are centered around journalism, publication or media).
Scholarship matching sites and scholarship search engines can be helpful tools to match you with specific scholarships based on your gender, age, heritage, year in school, program/major, and other identifying factors. These digital resources can help you quickly find scholarships that directly apply to you.
Increasing your chances of winning
You may have the option of reusing essays, letters, or other parts of your application. Make sure you follow the directions EXACTLY and that you address the correct group. Just because FedEx® had a scholarship that was the same as Coca-Cola® doesn’t mean it’s okay if you submit the exact same paperwork with the wrong name on it. Don’t give the committee a silly reason to disqualify your application.
Look for organizations’ missions or values. Scholarship groups are looking to award recipients who they believe reflect what they stand for. This may mean modifying existing essays or possibly writing an entirely new essay. (Note: don’t use their mission statement word-for-word, but subtle references to their values can be helpful.)
As you begin creating your application for your scholarship, it can be easy to bounce from your varied interests to volunteer experience to your academic history. Use the different facets of what makes you and individual to tell a story. Create a cohesive theme that tells the compelling story of you. You may not be entirely sure of what direction you are looking to pursue, but a cohesive application can project confidence in yourself and give the committee confidence in granting you the scholarship award.
Scholarship applications are usually comprised of essays, letters of recommendation, and other documentation. Not every scholarship will ask for the same materials, but here’s what you can typically expect.
Many scholarships have a limited word count (usually it’s around 500 words, or a single-spaced page). Your words should be well-chosen. Don’t worry about restating the prompt and try to stay away from over-explaining. Use those precious words to share something about you and have confidence in the committee’s intelligence that they know what you’re talking about.
Some ideas to address within your essay may be to discuss how you have taken a trial and turned it into a strength or a learning opportunity. You may also want to address your major and/or career goals. Include what your major is and what prompted you to pursue it. What are you hoping to accomplish with this knowledge you are seeking?
Write to your audience. If your audience is aware of the terminology of the industry you are going into, then lingo from that field may be appropriate. If you are applying for a more general scholarship, keep your language relatable.
Be humble. You are not entitled to win this scholarship and there are many other (just as deserving) applicants out there.
Letters of recommendation
Some scholarships will ask for letters of recommendation. Usually they will ask for two, but some may ask for more. A printed student resume can be very helpful when you are asking teachers or mentors to write letters of recommendation. It’s a good idea to ask for letters of recommendation well before the rush of college applications in the fall of your senior year of high school, so ask your teachers and mentors the spring of your junior year. This will also enable you to apply for scholarships over the summer.
Each scholarship will ask and require different documentation. Some scholarships will require you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (FAFSA) and some scholarships available through your school will require you to have your FAFSA completed. Read over the requirements of the scholarship and make sure you have all the necessary documents prepared and ready before you submit them.