College is not cheap, so most families have to tap into several sources for funds to pay for college. Applying for financial aid is a great starting point to access funds from the federal and state government, and colleges. However, long before students apply for financial aid as a high school senior, they can begin applying for private scholarships available through organizations such as civic groups, corporations and foundations. Students can begin applying as early as 8th or 9th grade so the scholarship tips below will come in handy.
Thousands of scholarships are available for students of every academic level, even those that are not straight A students. Many scholarships cater to students with specific interests — for e.g., music, art, environment; or a specific population of students — for e.g., first-generation, Hispanic, African American and foster youth. Although scholarships are available for students of all academic abilities, the application process can still be quite competitive. Most scholarship applications require an essay at the minimum; a few require no essays.
However, if you are highly motivated and organized, you will find success. In the hunt for scholarships, knowledge is power. Here are six great scholarship tips to help you get started:
1. Start Early
You should begin searching for scholarships, based on your eligibility, well before the college application season rolls around. You could begin as early as in eight or ninth grade but, at the latest, before the start of your senior year.
Once you have established a short list of scholarships, aim to complete the applications well before the deadline. This will ensure you have enough time to prepare and submit a very strong application and essay. Starting months before the deadline also gives you enough time to request any other requirements — for e.g., letters of recommendations and transcripts. If you have to request one or more recommendations, give your recommender (teacher, counselor, coach, or other recommender) enough time to write a thoughtful one that could ultimately help your application. You should give your recommender a copy of your resume and ask them to mention any specific qualities, project or achievement you would like them to highlight.
2. Think Local
While you should go after a diverse list of scholarships you believe you are eligible for, do not overlook the local (and sometimes smaller) scholarships available to students in your community. Take time to explore what is available to students in your local community. Organizations such as your local Rotary Club might not publish this information on their website but your college counselor will often maintain a list of local scholarships students ahead of you have received.
Keep in mind that local scholarships are a lot less competitive than the national scholarships. Some local scholarships might only be available to students from your school district or city, while the larger, national scholarships draw applicants from all over the country.
3. Apply Wisely
Don’t apply to every scholarship under the sun. Limit the number of scholarship applications to no more than 10-12 applications. In simple terms, invest your time and energy wisely to scholarships for which you are eligible and have a good chance of winning. Only apply to those scholarships where you can submit a very strong application and have a very good chance of winning.
Even if you do not believe you are a “strong candidate” when it comes to GPA and SAT scores, you might still be able to submit a strong application by leveraging other strengths and achievements. In some cases, an organization might take into account any hardship you are currently facing. It is more advantageous to submit a few top-notch applications than dozens of mediocre ones.
4. Talk to Your Counselor
Your counselor is one of the best resource during your scholarship search. Counselors are usually very familiar with the scholarships many of the students have won in previous years. Most schools will track their scholarship dollars as well as the source. This information can often be found in the college planning software your high school is using – for e.g., Naviance. Additionally, your counselor might be able to provide additional scholarship tips to win those local scholarships available to students at your school.
5. Tell a Compelling Story
Don’t underestimate the value of a good story. Since everyone and their friend will be applying for scholarship money, you have to find a way to stand out. Pay attention to the topic and ensure you weave a personal story through your writing. If you are writing about a problem you solved in your community, don’t just focus on the the dollar amount you raised to buy a sound system for the theater room, talk about what the theater room means to you — is it the place you find refuge? Talk about how it impacted lives in your community. Put a face and name on it. Make your essay personal, passionate and memorable.
Also remember that while you can recycle essays, be sure to tweak it whenever appropriate to ensure it is addressing the topic or well suited for the organization to which you are applying. Don’t submit an essay about “the biggest challenge you have ever faced” if the application question is asking about “who has been your biggest influence and why”. Also, remember to ask a trusted adult or teacher to review and edit your essay. A second pair of eyes couldn’t hurt. Good Luck!
6. Use A Good Scholarship Database
While there are many scholarship search sites available online. It is extremely important that you stick to the reputable ones. Some may require that you create an account to access the search results. However, none should require a payment for access to the scholarships. Beware of those that do. Here are a few I would recommend:
o College Board Scholarship Search
o Community Foundations of Texas
o Hispanic Scholarship Fund
o The Dallas Foundation
o The Horatio Alger Association
o United Negro College Fund (UNCF)
While these scholarship tips are by no means exhaustive, considering them during your scholarship search could set you up for success.