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.