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How to Win Scholarships
As the price for a college education continues to dramatically rise, it is imperative for students to have a plan to receive scholarships that can supplement those incredibly high college costs. According to CollegeBoard, a leading source for collegiate planning resources, two-thirds of all full-time enrolled college students use scholarships and grants to pay for college. When considering how to pay for college, there is little question from both students and families that finding scholarships and grant funding where there is no obligation to pay anything back is the ideal situation. This is particularly true considering the alternative route of graduating college with inconceivable amounts of student loan debt looming over your future.
Scholarship money is out there. The financial experts at Debt.org remark that $3.3 billion in scholarships and grants are awarded to students every year by various private sources such as foundations, service organizations, and corporations. With so much financial support available, it is crucial that students and families understand the best way to find, apply, and receive this scholarship money. These five tips will serve as a guide for successfully navigating through the scholarship process.
Do Your Research
Much like the college application process, the scholarship application process requires a significant amount of time and research. An excellent way to start is by creating a free account on a scholarship search database such as Unigo Scholarship Match or Scholarships.com. With these tools, you can create an account with all of your information, and the resource will give you a personalized list of scholarships for which you are eligible to apply.
Although there are countless national scholarships available, there are also most likely a number of scholarships opportunities in your surrounding community. The best place to start in this search is with your high school teachers and guidance counselor. Your local library might also have a community board with various opportunities, and many times, scholarships will be posted to the public. You can also find scholarship opportunities in local newspapers and on community television or radio stations. If your county or town has a community website, they will often use it as a platform to share a list of scholarship opportunities for local graduating seniors. It is also wise to check-in with your local branch of non-profit organizations or community foundations, such as the Elks National Foundation. You should also do specific internet searches for memorial scholarships in your community as there are often many available opportunities.
Whether you use a spreadsheet, calendar, or binder system, it’s important to stay organized throughout the entire scholarship process. As you find local and national scholarships that you’re eligible for, build some sort of organizational list or database for yourself that will help you keep track of all the important information. Pay close attention to the application deadline, whether you need to apply online or by mail, and what supplement materials you will need to submit along with your application. Often, scholarships will require recommendation letters from guidance counselors, teachers, club advisors, or coaches. It’s important to give them plenty of time to write a thoughtful and intentional recommendation for your application. Track all of your deadlines on your calendar closely, and aim to have all of your application materials, including recommendations, submitted at least two weeks before the deadline to give yourself a buffer of time in case something does not go as planned.
Don’t wait until the middle or end of your senior year to start thinking about your scholarship applications. Many scholarship application deadlines happen much earlier than you would expect. Some deadlines occur the summer before you even enter your senior year of high school. There are some scholarships that are even specifically available for high school juniors. The earlier you start your search, the more scholarships you will find in time to apply.
Additionally, you should start thinking about the general things you can do throughout high school to improve your chances at receiving college scholarships. Are you involved in as many extracurriculars that you can fit in your schedule? Do any of these clubs and activities give you the opportunity to do community service or take on a leadership position? Just like with your college applications, scholarship applications look for candidates who are well-rounded and succeeding both in and out of the classroom. The amount of volunteer work and public service you do in high school will also make a significant amount of difference on your scholarship applications. Scholarship funders want to help students who help others and are making obvious positive impacts in their communities. It’s never too early to think about how you can improve your scholarship applications with volunteer work and extracurriculars. In the best case scenario, there are many scholarships that are additionally available only to students who participate in some of these extracurriculars, such as Key Club or the National Honor Society.
Pay Attention to Your Odds
When selecting which scholarships you should apply for, don’t overlook the numbers. Many national scholarships will have hundreds of thousands of applicants. Apply for a mix of national and local scholarships to better your chances of winning. You also should not underestimate how useful it is to apply for a number of scholarships with smaller award amounts. So many students choose to only apply for scholarships for large amounts of money, and while those are excellent, there are so many smaller award scholarships that will have fewer applicants. All the smaller awards will add up fast and be significantly beneficial when it comes to paying for your room and board, meal plans, and textbook fees.
Pay particular attention to scholarships that take a bit more work, like those with more essays or those requiring special application materials. The longer a scholarship takes to complete, the less students will apply. If you’re determined and apply for these more difficult opportunities, it will often be rewarding since you will have less competition for the scholarship. When you focus on the numbers and your chances, odds are your hard work will be worth it and will definitely pay off.
Avoiding Scholarship Scams
With so many incoming and current college students applying for scholarships to supplement the high price tag of their college educations, information and opportunities for scholarship opportunities seem to be everywhere. Unfortunately, not all of these opportunities are legitimate. Scholarship scams can and do happen all too often, so it is imperative that students and their families remain vigilant to notice those red flags throughout their scholarship search process. As expected, the best and most obvious advice to follow when avoiding scams is that if something seems too good to be true, that is almost definitely the case. Additionally, it is important to note that if you are a victim of a scam, you should absolutely report it to prevent the same thing from happening to another innocent scholarship applicant.
Though avoiding scholarship scams often comes down to doing your research and using common sense, there are a number of common scholarship scams for you to be wary of. This list shares ten common scholarship scams that you should be sure to avoid.
Scholarship Matching Services with Fees
There are a number of very reputable free scholarship match tools that allow you to make an account that creates a personalized list of scholarships for which you are an eligible fit. Some of these reputable sites include Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and College Board’s bigfuture scholarship search tool. If a scholarship match program charges you money to create an account and find your matches, it is most likely a scam. Even if the resource promises a refund for a list of your matches, you will most likely never see that money again. With so many free resources to find scholarship matches, be sure to avoid those with fees.
Scholarship Applications with Fees
The entire point of a scholarship is for a foundation, non-profit organization, or corporation to provide sources of money to high achieving applicants that will help them to fund their college education. There is no reason for a scholarship competition to ask for a fee. Even if you would receive a scholarship from a competition that takes a fee from you, with the amount of applicants each scholarship gets, the company or scholarship funder is most likely making a significant profit rather than positively impacting someone in need of additional money for college. Avoid any scholarship application that might ask for a fee or for your credit card or checking account number.
Sending Money to Claim a Scholarship
If you are notified that you received a scholarship but you have to send someone money in order to claim it, that is most definitely a scholarship scam. Much like you should never have to pay to enter a scholarship competition, you should never have to pay to receive any scholarship money you supposedly won.
Student Loans with Advanced Fees
Sometimes you may receive an offer for a low-interest student loan to supplement your college tuition costs that will ask you for a fee along with your loan application. This is a clear scam as a loan provider should never ask you for a fee in order for you to receive the loan. Advance fees may masquerade themselves in language such as “processing fees” or “application fees”, so be extremely observant of a supposed loan provider asking you for money up-front.
Scholarships that Require Too Much Information
Another common scholarship scam is that a company will sell your personal information to marketing agencies. Avoid scholarship applications that ask you for more personal information rather than the standard name, address, email address, and phone number. Remember to never share your credit card or bank account information with a scholarship application, even if the company says that they just require that information to “hold” the scholarship for you. Be very aware of the kinds of questions and information scholarships require of you to make sure they are legitimate opportunities.
Winning a Scholarship that You Did Not Enter
If you receive a call or an email saying that you won a scholarship that you did not even enter, it is almost definitely a scam. Unless it is someone reputable representing your high school or college and granting you with a scholarship award because of your achievements, be extremely cautious about believing that you won any sort of scholarship competition for which you didn’t even apply.
A Guarantee of Winning a Scholarship
If a company or organization uses language that suggests that you are guaranteed to receive a scholarship, that is most certainly a scam. Reputable scholarship granters will never guarantee that applicants will win anything. Pay close attention to the words these companies use to recognize if they are making false promises.
A Promise to Apply for a Scholarship On Your Behalf
A common scholarship scam is that an individual or company will promise to complete scholarship applications for you. Though scholarship applications do take a significant amount of time and energy, you are the only person who can and should be completing your own applications. Anyone who promises to do the work for you is most likely scamming you to get your personal information.
Limited Time Scholarship Offers
Recognize that there is a difference between a scholarship deadline put in place by a reputable organization and the promise of a “limited time offer” for a scholarship opportunity that is almost definitely a scam. A real scholarship competition will not award prizes on a first-come, first-serve basis. Any pressure of time sensitivity other than a normal deadline for application is an obvious red flag.
Financial Aid Seminars
Finally, a common scam is that of free seminars that promise to share useful information with you about the collegiate financial aid process. While sometimes colleges or reputable companies and organizations can host useful pre-college seminars, most of these other free financial aid seminars are scams to trick college students and their families into shelling out significant amounts of money on scholarship matching services or loans with incredibly high interest rates. Be aware of the potential for this scam when considering any similar seminars you may be invited to attend.
Scholarship Application Tips
If you are a current or incoming college student, chances are you plan to apply for college scholarships. As more and more students try to avoid significant student loan debt, competition for winning these college scholarship opportunities continues to increase. When it comes to acing that scholarship essay and making your application stand-out from the pack, there are a number of strategies you can employ. Here are ten tips for making your scholarship application a winning one.
Meet the Scholarship Deadline
The number one rule for a successful scholarship application is to make sure you meet every single application deadline. In almost all cases, applications that are received after the scholarship deadline will not even be considered. Pay close attention to deadlines, and make yourself a calendar to track all of the important dates. Make sure you leave yourself with a big enough window of time to write an exceptional scholarship essay as well as plenty of time for those writing your scholarship recommendations to get their portion of the work done.
Make Sure You Are Eligible for the Scholarship
Scholarships can be extremely particular in their eligibility requirements of their scholarship applicants. As scholarship applications take up so much time and energy, be positive that you meet every single eligibility guideline before doing all of the work on the application. Additionally, it would be extremely unfair for you to ask teachers and guidance counselors to take the time to write a recommendation letter for a scholarship for which you are not even eligible. Do thorough research before deciding which scholarships are the best fit for you.
Choose the Right People for your Recommendation Letters
Recommendation letters carry a significant amount of weight for many scholarship competitions. When considering what teacher, coach, or advisor you would like to write a recommendation letter for you, make sure you are intentionally selecting those who can speak to your work ethic, academic and extracurricular success, and the specific attributes that make you deserving of winning a scholarship. It is also a smart idea to have a discussion with those writing your recommendation letter. Ask them if they feel that they have positive things to say about you and work, and explain your reasoning for asking them to write a recommendation later rather than someone else.
Follow the Instructions Closely
With the amount of time and energy you will contribute to completing a scholarship application, it is so important that you pay close attention to all of the instructions. It would truly be a shame to have your application be disqualified because you missed an important part of the instructions or accidentally skipped an essay question. As scholarships receive so many applicants, those who seem to not be able to follow the instructions will almost certainly fail to be considered.
Do Not Use a Generic Essay
Although many scholarship applications call for essays that have similar topics or themes, it is a wise choice to write a new essay for every scholarship. This will take more time and energy, but it will make your essays stand out compared to other essays that may be generic and “one size fits all” for every scholarship competition. When possible, do your research on the company or foundation sponsoring the scholarship. Try to tie your essay topic into their mission and values. By showcasing that you understand the company and what is important to them, you will demonstrate your value as a scholarship recipient.
Understand How to Write About Your Accomplishments
It is important that you find a balance between writing about your accomplishments and coming across as likable and humble in your scholarship essays. The best way to highlight yourself in essays is to focus on your passion and what you have learned. In most cases, your passion for whatever you are involved in (sports, music, community service, etc.) is what probably led you to your accomplishments. By discussing your passions and what opportunities they have brought you as well as the lessons they have taught you, you will be able to highlight your achievements without seeming as if you are bragging.
Do Not Exxagerate
Although it is crucial for you to share your successes and accomplishments with the scholarship granters, be sure not to exaggerate or lie about your achievements. There are too many ways for people to corroborate that your information is correct, and it can be very easy to see through lies you may put on your application. Honesty is the best strategy in the case of your applications, though you shouldn’t be afraid to highlight and discuss the things you really have accomplished.
Proofread Your Applications
Possibly one of the most important steps to writing a winning scholarship application is to proofread prior to submission. One of the best strategies to catch as many errors as possible is to print your application and read it out loud. You should also share your application with a few trusted proofreaders, such as your guidance counselor or a favorite teacher. Most people will be more than willing to assist you, and submitting a polished and clean application will make a significant impact on those selecting the scholarship recipients.
Make Copies of Your Application
Before submitting your final application, make both electronic and physical copies. If you always have a plan for the worst to happen, such as your application getting lost in the mail, you will be able to devise a solution thanks to your forward planning. If possible, try to request a confirmation that your application arrived. You could do this by sending it through certified and tracked mail if it is a paper application or calling or emailing someone on the scholarship committee to confirm if they share their contact information with you.
Finish All of Your Applications
You won’t receive any scholarship awards if you fail to complete the application! No matter how much time and energy each application takes, it’s important to give yourself the best chance possible to help fund your college career by putting the effort into your scholarship applications.