Whether planning to enroll in an college Scholarships program or a traditional, residential degree program, students are frequently and happily surprised by the wide range and often easy availability of college scholarships being offered by businesses, civic groups, churches, public interest organizations, fraternal groups, unions, professional organizations, individuals and families wishing to honor deceased relatives or friends, and colleges and universities themselves.
The big problem is not the number or breadth of scholarships but rather identifying those awards for which an individual student might be a strong candidate. In addition, it is a far more efficient use of an applicant’s time to find larger scholarships and/or scholarships which do not require lengthy projects or essays. Of course, a student will also increase his or her chance of winning significant money by applying for scholarships that are awarded to relatively large numbers of applicants as opposed to those offered to only one or two people.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to publicize their services and acquire links to their websites, many (mostly small) businesses or localized professional associations created small scholarships and hired public relations and other marketing savvy professionals to announce their existence to local, regional, and national media. In many instances, these scholarships require extensive writing assignments and award small scholarships to one or perhaps two recipients.
In general, these scholarships often offered by lawyers, accountants, insurance agencies, etc. are not worth the time or effort required if they demand more than 30-60 minutes of a student’s time because that time can probably be used to better advantage by searching and applying for awards with far higher potential return.
Of course, the most desirable scholarships are likely (but not certain) to be the most competitive, so do not apply for them unless you clearly meet their criteria or very little time and effort are involved. But, be sure to apply for those you think you have a good shot at, even if time and effort are required. It is a good idea to line up someone who can critique both the content and mechanics (spelling, structure, grammar) of any writing you submit in support of a scholarship application.
Don’t forget to save everything you write so that parts of your writings can be repurposed when applying for other awards, but do not submit “one size fits all” essays as they will be quickly and easily seen by scholarship committees for what they are.
Here are ten steps that can help students find and qualify for one or more scholarships that can put a significant dent in their college costs.
- Make an appointment to meet with your high school college and scholarship counselors to discuss colleges which have offered area graduates generous scholarship and financial aid packages, and obtain a list of scholarships offered by local businesses and organizations. Most counselors maintain such a list and many publish it on their school website. You can also check out the websites of nearby high schools or call counselors at area schools to request their list of local scholarship providers. Always ask to be added to the counselors’ mailing list so you will learn of scheduled college visits, college fairs, and new scholarship opportunities.
- Put together a list of at least 7-8 colleges of interest to you and review the scholarship pages of their websites to identify scholarships for which you might be a competitive candidate. Then, see if you can first call and later meet with admissions representatives from those colleges when they visit local high schools and/or attend college fairs in your area. If possible, visit your top choices and ask your admissions counselor to again recommend scholarships for which you may be a solid candidate.
- Create a list of the places your family members are employed, the organizations to which you all belong, and their church affiliations. Then check the websites of those places in search of “affinity” scholarships. Many church affiliated colleges offer generous scholarships to all students who are members of their sponsoring denomination, so be sure to check with your clergyman, and visit some individual church and denominational websites.
- Check some of the many free scholarship search sites that match students with appropriate scholarships. You will find links to about 70 such sites. As you find scholarships for which you are eligible, create a spreadsheet which includes deadlines and keep close track of when and what you submit. Keep copies of everything you submit; no exceptions. You never know when your records may be important.
- Participate in athletics and/or other co-curricular activities of interest to you throughout your school career. Also, engage in volunteer work at an organization which makes a positive impact in your community. Any activity in which you participate, especially those in which you demonstrate strong commitment and/or leadership, can boost your chance for admission and lead to a college scholarship.
- Put together a resume or “brag sheet” which highlights your classroom achievements, your volunteer or public service work, your standardized test scores (if they are solid), your employment experience, and your hobbies or special interests. In some instances, you might also want to include your educational and/or career goals. If you have done some independent study, completed AP coursework or earned dual credit, add those things as well. Have copies available for every college representative you meet or follow up your meetings with a thank you email and the brag sheet attached.
- Use the search engines. You can look for “fine arts scholarships”, “scholarships for gamers”, “scholarships for homeschoolers”, “scholarships for Methodists”, “two year college scholarships”, “Christian college scholarships”, etc.
- Subscribe to a few of the many free online scholarship newsletters, especially those that feature new and/or unique scholarships. There are also some great Facebook groups for college-bound students that include good scholarship and financial aid information.
- Search for colleges and universities that meet your full financial need or at least most of it (as determined by the FAFSA), complete the FAFSA online (so corrections are faster/easier if needed), and submit it as soon as possible. Do not be intimidated; the new FAFSA is far less difficult than folks think, and if you have a question, call the financial aid office at one of the colleges on your list. They will be glad to help.
- Verify everything you hear from folks who are not admissions/financial aid professionals. There is no way this can be overstated. Their experiences, both good and bad, are not good predictors of your experiences. No two students have exactly the same GPA, test scores, references, talent, etc., and lots of factors which can influence your ultimate financial aid package can and do change from year to date. There is a lot off erroneous information about scholarships and financial aid out there, and folks miss out on opportunities every year by listening to and believing it. Do not be one of those people. Verify, verify, verify.