Getting scholarships

4 helpful tips for getting scholarships

Searching and applying for college scholarships can help you owe less (and stress less) when you graduate.

Scholarships: A win-win

When you’re thinking about how to pay for college, figuring out how to get a scholarship (or two) can make a real difference. Unlike student loans, getting a scholarship are like gifted money—you shouldn’t have to pay anything back as long as you meet all the eligibility requirements.

Getting a scholarship can help you pay for a range of educational expenses—things like tuition and housing—so you can swap that part-time job for more time to study and enjoy campus life. And knowing that you’ll have less to pay back in student loans can be a big relief, too. All of these benefits can help you stress less during college and let you focus on what matters most: your education.

“(Getting scholarships) takes a lot of effort, but to my mind, it’s much better than the effort it takes to pay back thousands of dollars of loans and interest later.”
—Bright Dickson, happiness expert and co-host of “Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian”

1. Start sooner rather than later.

When should you start applying for college scholarships? The answer depends on a couple of factors. Each scholarship you apply for will have its own deadline—and these deadlines will help determine when you should be writing essays and sending applications.

Some scholarship deadlines can be up to a year before college even starts, which means it’s good to start seriously looking during your junior year of high school. Still, the earlier the better. Some scholarships allow you to apply during your freshman or sophomore years of high school—and doing some initial research leading up to your junior or senior years can help you plan which scholarships you really want to go after.

If you’re already in your senior year of high school and you haven’t applied for any scholarships, that’s OK! You still have time—especially if it’s early in the school year. Some scholarship deadlines, for example, will extend to May of your senior year. In fact, it’s possible to continue earning scholarships even after you start your freshman year of college. (Although you may have more to distract you at that point.) 

Scholarships with smaller awards <$1,000 are usually less competitive and easier to win. Cha-ching!

Scholarship Statistics, Education Data Initiative, February 24, 2022.

2. Do the research.

When you’re ready to start searching and applying for scholarships, you should reach out to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in. Ask for information about any scholarships or grants specific to those schools—and keep track of the details, like dollar amounts and scholarship application deadlines, in an organized document.

You can also search online to find scholarships that have specific criteria you meet. You can find scholarships for people from certain states or ethnic backgrounds, or even specific to a particular major or personal interest.

There’s a common misconception that merit-based scholarships are reserved for straight-A students or star athletes—but that’s not the case! While athletic or academic performance can help you earn merit-based scholarships, many are awarded based on particular interests or activities outside of school, like community service. 

The average scholarship is worth $7,400.

Source: Scholarship Statistics, Education Data Initiative, February 24, 2022.

Ever heard the phrase, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”? That applies here. Try asking your teachers, friends, and family members to share any college scholarships they know about. There may be scholarship money available from the companies your parents work for, community groups in your town, or organizations your high school counselors can refer you to. The bonus here is that you can also build relationships and a network to help you with recommendation letters—a crucial part of most scholarship applications. 

3. Reach out to your network.

4. Make a game plan.

Now that you’ve done your research and connected with your network, it’s time to take action. With a game plan, you can be sure you’re checking off all the boxes to set yourself up for success. Refer to your awesome list of potential scholarships and sort it by deadline. Keep all of your application materials together in a folder on your computer that’s easy to get to.

Many scholarship applications ask for the same info—think transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and sometimes even tax forms—so having it all in one place can help you easily upload and submit multiple applications quicker. You can also repurpose essays if scholarships have similar prompts—but small edits to customize your essays and make them feel personal can go a long way.

Taking the time to research and apply for scholarships will help you take a great financial step for your future. 

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