When Should you Start Applying for Scholarships?

Last updated on - November 4, 2023

When Should you Start Applying for Scholarships?

When to apply for scholarships? The answer is simple - the sooner, the better! As tuition costs continue to skyrocket, scholarships can provide a big relief to students and parents alike. Whether you're hoping to be the recipient of a prestigious scholarship or just trying to fill in some financial gaps, this article will help you determine the best time to start applying. Read on to find out more!

Why Apply for Scholarships?

Applying for scholarships is a no-brainer decision. It's an excellent opportunity to receive free money without needing repayment. Plus, it can save you from drowning in student loans. It's like getting free money without a "pay me back" note attached. 

Many students worry scholarships are competitive and give up before starting. In reality, many have few applicants. I've seen this firsthand while serving on scholarship committees with only single-digit applicants. I've even had cause to reach out to schools to encourage students to apply.

Applying for scholarships offers numerous benefits: possibly getting one, reducing financial concerns, and allowing students to focus on their studies. Many students have dropped out of college due to financial pressures or feelings of being a burden.

Scholarships can also open doors to cool opportunities like study abroad programs. Depending on the scholarship, they could cover all or some of the expenses associated with studying abroad.

And guess what? Scholarships aren't just for the brainiacs or the star athletes. Plenty of scholarships are available for the average student, some based on personal interests, heritage, or intended field of study.

One thing to remember – colleges provide most scholarships, but private scholarships can help fill any financial gaps. Only a few students will win full-ride scholarships, so looking for private scholarships to cover any gap is a good idea.

So, why apply for scholarships? By applying for scholarships, your student can reduce their debt burden, increase their chances of success, and secure a brighter future. Cha-ching.

RELATED: 8 Scholarship Tips You Should Know

Applying for Scholarships: A Timeline

Starting early is vital to success when it comes to winning scholarships. Most students begin hunting for scholarships in their senior year. However, truth be told, your child should start way earlier.

You'll have to start early to build the largest possible scholarship chest. Help your child develop a habit of researching and applying for scholarships in 9th and 10th grades and ramping up the effort the closer you get to senior year. Make it a fun family weekend event and offer incentives to motivate your student. It's a lot of drudge work, but they will get the scholarship bug once they win their first scholarship. 

If your child is already a junior or senior, there is still time to apply for scholarships. Searching for scholarships can begin at any stage in high school and should continue in college. Each year your child is in college, they should apply to as many outside (private) scholarships as possible.

9th & 10th Grades

Students can begin seeking scholarship opportunities offered by organizations in their community (e.g., foundations, Rotary), their school and other places where they might volunteer or work. They can also begin searching for scholarships on scholarship databases like ours. Students can save their searches by signing up for an account. If eligible, they can apply.

As a parent, you can make the scholarship search fun in the early years (grades 9 and 10) to get your child in the habit of finding scholarships and applying. You could develop a reward system or help your child to see how scholarships could help them attend their dream college. 

RELATED: How to Pay for College

In 10th grade, students should continue researching scholarships, and applying for those they qualify.

They can keep adding to their scholarship chest by applying to small, less competitive scholarships. A $500 here and a $2,000 there adds up. Before you know it, you'll start having enough to cover a semester, a year, and so on.

You would be surprised to know how many students pass up on the small scholarships, thinking it's not worth their time. However, that could definitely work in your child's favor.

11th Grade – Junior 

In 11th grade, students should continue (or start) applying for scholarships. The closer they get to senior year, the more scholarships will be available to them.

Many scholarships become available in the Spring and Fall with deadlines within that timeframe too. Students should apply for any scholarships they are eligible for. If the deadline has passed, they should make a note of it and apply in their senior year.

Waiting until senior year to start will be an exercise in frustration and add to the stress you will experience during application season.

12th Grade – Senior Year

Most high school seniors can apply for scholarships beginning in late summer/early fall. Many of these scholarships will have deadlines in that same timeframe.

Summer before senior year is a great time to begin pulling together some of those pieces needed for your application packet (e.g., resume and personal statements). This way, they will not get too overwhelmed when they return to school in the fall smack dab in the middle of college application season.

In general, students should continuously seek out and apply for scholarships all the way up until graduation from college. Some scholarships are renewable, others are not.

RELATED: College Admissions Guide

Scholarship Tips

1. Start Early

Want to increase your chances of scoring scholarships for college? Start early, my friend. Encourage your child to dive into the scholarship game as soon as they set foot in high school. Don't let them wait until senior year like everyone else.

2. Think Local

Scope out local scholarships from community organizations or businesses. Less competition, more chances. 

It's okay for students to spread their net far and wide and apply for national scholarships like The Gates Scholarship or Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. However, remember they are highly competitive and should be one of many you are applying for.

2. Utilize Resources

When it comes to finding scholarships, you're not alone in your quest. Here are some options to find scholarship opportunities.

High school counselors are a great resource since they list local and national scholarships. Schedule an appointment with them to discuss options tailored to your child's interests and qualifications.

Remember to visit our comprehensive online database which has over 1.9 million scholarships. It lets you filter search results by amount, location, deadline, and more.

The key here is to be proactive: start researching early and use all the resources available. Remember, every dollar won from a scholarship means less money borrowed.

3. Set Deadlines

The scholarship application process can be overwhelming but fear not. Creating and adhering to deadlines is essential for staying organized throughout the scholarship application process.

Deadlines are like little checkpoints that keep you on track. They help you break down the application process into manageable chunks and prevent last-minute panics that could turn your child's application into a hot mess.

So, how do you set these magical deadlines? Here are some tips:

  • Create an Application Calendar: Use tools like Google Calendar to mark important dates for each scholarship. 
  • Prioritize Scholarships: If juggling multiple scholarships, prioritize them based on factors like award amount and chances of winning. 
  • Add Buffer Time: Don't be a procrastinator. Aim to submit applications at least a week before the actual deadline. This gives you wiggle room for unexpected delays.
  • Bonus Tip: Have weekly check-ins with your child to review progress and plan tasks. 

Remember, these deadlines are your friends, not your enemies. Don't let the plan derail you; stay focused on your scholarship goals. 

4. Be Organized

When it comes to applying for scholarships, organization is key. Stay on top of things and avoid the scholarship scramble.

Create a dedicated spreadsheet or calendar just for scholarship applications:

  • List all scholarships: List every scholarship opportunity your child wants to apply for. 
  • Estimate time needed: Figure out how long each application will take. 
  • Schedule: Put those deadlines in your calendar and leave some buffer time. 

By staying organized, you'll avoid missed deadlines and unnecessary stress. 

5. Follow Up

After your child submits their scholarship applications, they should follow up with the relevant providers if they have yet to receive an electronic (or other) confirmation. It's a small step that can make a big difference in securing college funds.

A friendly email or phone call about a week later shows that you're serious and eager. Plus, it's a chance to confirm that they received the application and it's being considered. 


Applying for scholarships is a great way to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of your high school student's college education.

When should you start applying for scholarship? The sooner, the better. Most scholarships have deadlines in the Fall and Spring, and while most students wait until senior year, starting early will give your child more time to research different scholarships and find the perfect fit for them. 


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