When it comes time to attend college, many students turn to scholarships to help pay the way. You can find scholarships based on academic achievement, financial need, racial and ethnic background, future career plans, leadership, community service and much more. It takes lots of research and hard work to win college scholarships – but the good news is, most scholarship review committees look for similar things. No matter what the award criteria, you’ll increase your chances of success if you follow the following guidelines.
- Get involved. The most obvious reason most students think of for becoming involved in student organizations and volunteer work is because it will look good on a resume. It is true many scholarship applications include sections especially for listing clubs and leadership positions and consider overall involvement as part of the award criteria. Beyond this, though, being a more well-rounded person will make you a better scholarship candidate in general. You’ll have experiences you can use as great material for essays. You’ll have countless opportunities to gain references. You may even become eligible for scholarships only offered to members of specific student organizations.
- Look for scholarships tailored to your backgrounds, abilities and interests. You’re certainly free to apply for scholarships that are open to every student in America, but you can increase your chances of success by looking for awards tailored to a specific student profile. If you’re an Armenian-American female from Idaho majoring in finance, why not try for scholarships focusing on one or more of those areas? When you substantially cut down the potential applicant pool, your individual application has a much greater chance of standing out.
- Be organized. You’ll want to create a list of your grades, test scores, activities, and honors. The earlier you start to create this list, the easier it will be to compile it. You may want to create a file folder or binder with award certificates, lists of clubs and sports, and descriptions of special projects and achievements.
- Watch the deadlines. You won’t have a chance at the scholarship if your application doesn’t get there on time. When you find a deadline, make sure you know whether your application must be postmarked by that date or actually be in the hands of the scholarship committee. Scholarships often ask you to acquire supporting materials from others, such as transcripts and references, so make sure you also allow enough time to secure these items. It’s certainly not fair to ask a teacher to write you a letter of recommendation the day before a scholarship application is due.
- Put your best effort into essays. The application essay can be just as important as your GPA and extracurricular activities in helping you win a scholarship. Use all the skills you learned in English class to create a portrait of yourself as a worthy recipient. Edit your essay several times, and ask a teacher or other trusted adult to read it and give you feedback.
Read any information that comes with the scholarship application to determine the criteria for awarding the scholarships and emphasize these points in your essay. For instance, you’ll want to detail your student council work for a scholarship focusing on leadership and talk about your inspiration for pursuing a degree in education for a teaching scholarship.
- Gather quality references. Good references are essential to creating a winning scholarship application. While you can write for pages about how much you’ve accomplished, it holds extra weight when someone else does the bragging for you. Teachers are commonly asked to provide references, but you can also ask youth leaders, music teachers, managers or anyone else with whom you have had a mentoring or supervisory relationship.
When asking for letters of recommendation, provide the writers with a list of the scholarship criteria so they can tailor the letter to your needs. You should also provide them with a list of relevant accomplishments, so they can highlight your strengths without straining their memories for the best examples.
- Keep searching. Don’t stop looking for and applying for scholarships just because you’ve enrolled in college. Becoming a college student only makes you eligible for an entirely new list of scholarships, in addition to scholarships open to students of all ages.