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8 Strategies For Applying To College Scholarships


As the college application season gets closer and closer, you may be starting to think about the logistics of your college experience. Which colleges are you going to apply to? What are your chances of getting in? Of course, the most difficult question for many families, how are you going to pay for it?


Well, earning scholarships is a fantastic way to get some funding for your college education and lessen the financial burden on your family. The great thing about scholarships, unlike other financial aid methods like loans, is that they don’t have to be paid back. The money is yours to spend on your education, and you won’t be putting yourself in debt by accepting the money.


While that’s great and all, earning scholarships is not easy. As the number of students applying for college gets bigger and bigger each year, the competition pool for scholarships gets more and more fierce. Nevertheless, with some focus, determination, and a strong application, you may find yourself winning more scholarship money than you anticipated. Read on to discover our tried and true strategies for applying for scholarships.


1. Know Where To Look


You know that scholarships exist, but where do you find them? How do you discover which ones you qualify for and have a shot at winning? The good news is that there are many resources for you to look for scholarships. Here are some of the most common:


  • Guidance Counselor’s Office: If your high school has a guidance counselor’s office, they most likely have some sort of resources available to help you search for scholarships to apply to. For some, it’s a large filing cabinet of applications. For others, it’s an online database that will give you a long list of scholarships to apply to. This is a great place to start because your guidance counselor has likely organized a list of scholarships that many students would qualify for, including yourself.


  • Look At Your Community: Whether it be a church or other religious group, club, community organization, or a local business, you’d be amazed at how many groups of people around you are willing and able to help you finance your college education. Tons of businesses, groups, and clubs offer scholarships to students in the community to show their commitment to bettering the lives of individuals in the community. It is up to you to take advantage of these opportunities. Local scholarships such as these are found at every level of social organization, from local centers to state-wide contests. While these scholarships might seem hard to find given their specificity, it’s worth doing a cursory search to see what might be available.


  • Online: One great thing about the internet in recent years is that there are tons of scholarships and scholarship applications available completely free and online. You just need to sit down and take the time to sift through Google and find the scholarships that seem legitimate and are ones you qualify for. Of course, CollegeVine features a great deal of blogs detailing the application process for specific scholarship applications–just check out our scholarships sub-category. If you don’t know where to start, there’s no better place!


2. Know The Different Scholarship Types


If you don’t know already, there are different types of scholarships out there, and the type of scholarship heavily impacts whether you qualify for it. Here are two main distinctions to look out for when distinguishing between different scholarship types:

  • Need-Based vs. Merit-Based: If a scholarship is need-based, it means that the scholarship committee will take into consideration the demonstrated financial need of the applicant when making the final decision on who gets the scholarship. Indeed, many need-based scholarships list a maximum family income level as one of the base qualifications. On the other hand, if a scholarship is merit-based, financial need is not a relevant factor in the award decision. It is simply the work and accomplishments of the students that are considered when choosing a winner.


  • College-Specific vs. Independent: Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to incoming students. At the same time, independent organizations outside of colleges and universities also offer scholarships. Both are great options, and you should apply for both. However, it’s important to note that most college-specific scholarships will only be awarded to a student who ultimately chooses to attend that university, whereas independent scholarships don’t usually have those restrictions.


3. Know the Best Time To Find Scholarships


One of the saddest mistakes that we see students make when applying for scholarships is starting too late. Don’t wait until college applications season of your senior year to start looking up scholarships. Start early! We at CollegeVine recommend starting as early as 9th grade if you can. You’d be amazed at how many scholarships are available to underclassmen and how few students–relatively speaking–apply to those.


Moreover, you ought to start researching scholarships well before your college applications season starts so that you are not scrambling to find and apply for a bunch of scholarships at the last minute. After all, you’re going to have enough applications to fill out just from applying to college. The last thing you’re going to want is the stress of starting the scholarship application process as well.


4. How Many Scholarships Should You Apply For?


Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer to this question because it all depends on your circumstances. If you’re hoping that scholarships will pay for all of your college education, you should apply for as many as you can. On the other hand, if your family is well above the income bracket for most need-based scholarships, you may find the number of scholarships that you qualify for is limited. In other words, the number of scholarships you apply for is largely situational. A guidance counselor who is familiar with your family’s situation may be able to provide more insights with regards to this question.


That being said, you should try to apply for more scholarships rather than less as a general rule. After all, you are unlikely to win every scholarship you apply for, even if you write the most incredible application and essay in the world. It’s a simple run of the odds: the more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances are at winning some money.

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5. Understand What The Scholarship Committee Is Looking For


Each scholarship is unique and will involve different qualification criteria, different requirements, and different thematic selection criteria. Before you start writing and submitting scholarship applications, make sure to do your research and find out which organizations are offering which scholarships and what they are expecting to see from a winning application. If you tailor your submission as closely as possible to the requirements and expectations of the organization, you have a much better shot at winning.


It’s important to note that, as you apply to more and more scholarships, the essay prompts and the application requirements can start to seem similar. You might then be tempted to borrow an essay or personal statement from one scholarship application and use it in another. If you decide to do that, make sure you heavily rework the essay so that it fits exactly what the scholarship committee is looking for. In other words, make your submission specific to the scholarship you are applying for. Don’t be too generic in your responses.


6. Presentation and Proofreading


It’s fairly simple. Once you’ve written your application, read it. Then read it again. If you can, read it backwards. Make sure and check thoroughly for little mistakes that could add up and cost you some serious money. These include misspelled words, silly grammar mistakes, and other mistakes in your submission. In our experience, most students who proofread their submission end up finding mistakes that could have cost them the scholarship.


In the same vein, if the scholarship has a presentation component to it, make sure to practice it enough times beforehand so that you are comfortable and confident going into it. The goal should be to be able to make the presentation with very little concentration on your part, almost as if its second nature.


7. Stay On Top of Deadlines–Create a Scholarship Schedule


Each scholarship has a different set of requirements, including a different due date. If you decide to apply to a large number of scholarships, all of those deadlines can be hard to keep track of. To keep yourself from being overwhelmed, consider creating a scholarship schedule where you note down all of the important due dates in one convenient location. That way, you will be able to look at the schedule and visualize exactly how much scholarship work you have ahead of you.


A simple excel spreadsheet or Word Document will work to create a scholarship schedule just fine. However, students have also been known to use their Google Calendars, the calendar apps in their phones, and the Reminder function on their phone to remind them of all of the deadlines.


8. Stay Organized


With a bunch of applications and even more essays, it can be hard to keep track of it all. Thus, it is imperative that you organize your scholarship efforts as much as you can as early as you can. This means separate file folders for each scholarship, labels for each part of an application, and naming your documents professionally and succinctly.


If you submit scholarships online, you should also make sure to keep a copy of your online submission so that you have it for your records. You won’t be likely to need it, but it’s important to have just in case you need to check your submission or prove any part of your application.


For More Information


Interested in applying for scholarships? If so, these blog posts will likely interest you:


15 College Scholarships For High School Juniors

5 Tips To Make College Scholarships Your Summer Focus

How Your SAT Scores Can Help You Earn Scholarships

10 Weird College Scholarships You Should Consider


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!