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Getting a Head Start on Your Scholarship Search
Why search for scholarships?
As you are probably well aware, college today is very expensive. Many families may need financial support, which comes in many different forms. Along with financial aid, many students secure scholarships—usually merit-based monetary awards to be used for tuition and other college expenses like textbooks, room, and board. Sometimes scholarships have a need-based component as well. (Check out 15 Financial Aid Resources for help understanding and securing different types of financial aid.)
Scholarships typically have individual rules, application processes, and requirements, so you will need to do some research to identify your options and the procedures, deadlines, and other requirements individual awards entail. For a general overview of scholarships, read Helpful Scholarships Resources & Tips.
Your scholarship search: a brief introduction
There are plenty of scholarships available from different community organizations, affinity groups, cultural groups, competitive contests, and many other sources. Winners may be chosen based on one or more of many different factors, including financial need, academic merit, extracurricular or group membership, special accomplishments, essay quality, and contest-specific specialities (such as speaking, writing, STEM skills, and so on).
When looking for and narrowing down scholarships that interest you, consider a number of factors, such as the amount of the award, whether or not the scholarship is renewable, when it is awarded, the requirements and deadlines for your application, the competitiveness, and, most importantly, whether you are the type of student the organization might want to fund, as well as whether the organization represents a cause or interest you support.
Benefits of starting your scholarship search early
But what if you’re not even a senior yet? Isn’t it too early to start early to start looking for scholarships?
Actually, if you are a sophomore or junior, now is an ideal time to start your scholarship search. You will have more time to find scholarships that match your best qualities and skills, and will be more likely to win a scholarship that is meant for students like you.
You will also have more time to apply to a larger number of scholarships. Many competitions have extensive applications that require unique essays and recommendations, and they are often very competitive. Getting started now will allow you to apply to that many more scholarships, thus increasing your odds of winning one or more. Additionally, you may need to receive multiple awards to make a major dent in your college costs, so it’s a good idea to apply to as many as you can.
An early start means you’ll also have more time to perfect your application and work on your essays, portfolios, and other supplementary materials the scholarship application may require. This way, you won’t be rushing to complete them or gather together your materials at the last minute. You’ll also be able to plan out and organize your scholarship search more easily.
Tips for the early stages of your scholarship search
So where do you start?
There are a number of places to look for scholarships. Start by talking to your guidance counselor. He or she may know of scholarships that are suitable for students like you based on experiences with previous students or connections in the community. A teacher or mentor who knows you and your interests well might also be a good resource.
It is also a good idea to look online. There are many websites and apps that compile scholarship listings. Often, you can specify certain parameters and target your search within these sites.
Be sure to keep a list of the scholarships that interest you and carefully research each one. You don’t want to waste time on applications if you don’t fit the requirements. It’s also important to watch out for scams. Doing careful research and communicating with the sponsor or representative for the scholarship should help you avoid those. In general, legitimate scholarships will not ask you to pay a fee to apply—while there may be some exceptions, you should always approach any scholarship application that comes with a fee with particular caution.
Keep in mind that some scholarships actively accept applications earlier than your senior year. The National Merit Scholarship program is one example of this, as well as the well-known Coke and Nordstrom scholarships. However, most scholarships will require you to wait until your senior year to actually apply—though you can and should prepare in advance. Also be aware that for some scholarships, like National Merit, you will not be allowed to apply directly; you must apply through your school or another organization to be considered. Make sure you understand the procedures before you begin the application process.
If you are looking to start your scholarship search early, check out some of CollegeVine’s guides below. You’ll find generally tips for conducting your search and applying for scholarships, as well as scholarships geared towards specific groups and interests.
Looking for help navigating the road to college? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills. The ultimate goal is for college admissions to just be the next step in series of successes driven by the student.