Applying for scholarships may seem like an overwhelming prospect, and the competition can be intense. The great thing about scholarships is that they are free money for your education that never needs to be re-paid, and there are thousands of them available. The only scholarships that you are sure not to be awarded are the ones you don’t apply for- so go for it! The resulting awards could mean thousands of dollars over the course of your educational career, which could help you avoid taking out student loans, allow you to attend an out-of-state school, or mean that you don’t have to work while you study.
You’ll want to research a number of scholarships and narrow your choices down to the ones that mirror your talents and qualifications. Then you’ll fill out and send in an application with recommendations, an essay and an overview of your achievements. It may sound daunting, but if you use common sense and pay close attention to the directions, you’ll be on your way.
There are so many things to know. Where do I start?
- Research available scholarships
• Find out about major-specific scholarships at your college or university
• Check with federal agencies
• Look up your state’s grant agency
• Utilize the U.S. Department of Labor’s FREE scholarship search tool
• Consult the reference section of your library
Ask around town Consult with local organizations to find out whether they offer scholarships for which you are eligible:• Clubs or associations that you or your family are in
• Your high school
• Parents’ or students’ employers
• Financial aid office at your college or university
• Local organizations and businesses
• Religious organizations
• Professional organizations related to your field
• Ethnicity-based organizations
• Military-specific scholarships
• Campus organizations
Find your niche
Are you an artist? Do you write for the school newspaper? Excel at math? Maintain a 4.0 GPA? Write down what sets you apart and include these details on your scholarship applications. Also keep these traits in mind when searching for potential scholarships. Special talents or interests, academic achievement or financial need may play a role in getting a scholarship.
- Start EarlyDeadlines for scholarships tend to fall early in the calendar year and may require you to apply up to a year in advance of the school semester. You’ll want to take time to complete your application, gather documents and have someone else proofread everything, so allow extra time. Put the deadlines on your calendar and set yourself reminders to ensure you have all parts of the application ready. Submitting your application on the early side will make a good impression.
The first application may take the longest. Once you’ve sent in one or two, things will get easier.
- Organize your applicationsLabel a file for each scholarship and put your files in chronological order according to application deadline.As you’re getting started, pull together the items that you’ll need for your applications. Here are some common requirements:
• High school transcripts
• Standardized test scores
• Financial aid forms, for example the FAFSA or CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
• Proof of eligibility for the scholarship (membership card, for example)
• Personal essay(s)
• Letter(s) of recommendation
• Parents’ financial information, including tax returns
Prepare for an interview, as some scholarships require them. If the scholarship involves an audition or sample of your work, prepare yourself and your portfolio well in advance.
- Read the fine print Each scholarship will have a different set of requirements. If you aren’t sure whether you are eligible for a particular scholarship, contact the organization directly and find out. A quick call could save you a lot of legwork, and your energy can be spent on other applications. When you do find an award for which you qualify, take your time and fill everything out carefully. Read the directions, be aware of application deadlines, and never pay to apply for a scholarship- this could be a scam. Your personal essay or writing sample may work for more than one scholarship application, but make sure that your essay addresses the question. Do not exceed the word limit for the essay.
- Check your work Before you submit your application:
• Check that all blanks have been completed. When in doubt, ask the scholarship sponsor about any part of the application.
• Ensure that your responses are neat and legible. If possible, fill out the application online. Ask a friend or family member to proofread your application in addition to looking it over yourself.
• If your essay was used for a previous application, double-check that you have the correct names in the text.
• Proofread and check for spelling and grammar, both on the application and the essay. Have another person read through everything to check for errors and offer honest feedback.
• Sign and date your application.
• Save, scan or photocopy everything that you submit for each scholarship. If your package or e-mail gets lost, you’ll be prepared to resend if necessary.
• If you are required to mail an application, use certified mail to ensure that your application has been delivered.
• Make sure you submit your application using the preferred method (e-mail, mail or fax) and follow all of the instructions exactly.