There’s an old expression about contests of all kinds: You can’t win if you don’t play. The same goes for most scholarships: you can’t earn one if you don’t apply for one.
Students don’t have to be a straight «A» student or score perfectly on the SAT or ACT to secure scholarship money. You may be able to score a scholarship with interests and skills like making a short video about human population growth, being involved in STEM, enjoying the fantasy trading card game Magic: The Gathering, designing a greeting card, or doing a great duck call.
In fact, there are thousands of scholarships out there for students based on grades, ethnicity, religion, personalities, hobbies, choice of majors, family history, types of service projects, organizations, skills, ability to answer essay questions, and more. Getting a scholarship is equivalent to earning free money.
Here are some tips for finding a scholarship and maximizing the power of your application.
1. Start by signing up on a free, online scholarship search website.
Answer a few questions and get matched with many potential sources for free college money. To facilitate your scholarship search, these sites allow you to save, organize, and update search activity. Specialized sites for free online scholarship searches include:
All clients of International College Counselors receive a monthly list of scholarships.
2. Enter, Enter, Enter. When it comes to scholarships, the more you apply to, the more chances you have to win! There’s no limit to the number of scholarships for which students can apply. Think of it like a job: set time aside each week dedicated to searching for and applying for scholarships.
3. Apply for scholarships with smaller awards. National scholarships get more visibility and press, but you have a better chance at securing smaller scholarships. One of these scholarships is offered by International College Counselors. Apply here for the International College Counselors Scholarship. Also consider local scholarships, where you’ll only be competing against other students in your area. Ask around. Maybe a student’s or parent’s employer offers a scholarship or your place of worship offers an opportunity. A lot of smaller awards can add up fast.
4. Check with your high school counselor. High school counselors often have a list of local scholarships available. You won’t know unless you ask!
5. Visit the college websites. Many colleges offer merit-based scholarships which can often be renewed all four years. Check the website of the college and department of your intended major. There may be other scholarship opportunities, including earning the Eagle Scout rank or the Girl Scout Gold Award or being a team member of FIRST Robotics or Vex Robotics. To find these more hidden scholarship opportunities, go to the college‘s website and type the word «scholarships» into the search bar.
6. Begin with your strengths. Apply for scholarships that fit your talents and interests. These will be more enjoyable to enter and, if there is an essay or project to complete, you’ll more easily be able to show the scholarship committee why you deserve the award. For example, if you like making films, the scholarships that ask for a video will be fun to do. Your life experiences can also make your applications stand out. Use them to your advantage.
7. Get good grades and test scores. This advice can’t be ignored. Many scholarships have GPA and/or standardized test score requirements. Getting strong grades and scores really is the easiest way to get a scholarship, especially from the student’s college of choice. Many colleges offer scholarships based on grades and test scores. Students should take the SAT or ACT multiple times (as necessary and if possible). Even when schools are «test optional,» scholarships may still require test scores. Students should review the college‘s financial aid and scholarships websites for the most current scholarship requirements and processes.
8. Follow the rules. If you don’t meet the eligibility requirements, don’t apply for the scholarship. You’ll just be wasting your time. If a video should be fewer than 5 minutes, make sure it’s under 5 minutes. If an essay is 200 words, don’t write a 250-word essay.
9. Don’t procrastinate. You can never be certain the website, Internet, or computer will be working.
10. Seek feedback. Having another person look over your application can allow you to correct typos and also provide you with a second opinion. Often, others can notice things about our writing that we have trouble seeing, like being repetitive, including unnecessary information, or writing something that’s boring or doesn’t answer the question effectively.
Scholarships require time and effort both in the search and application process, but it’s worth it! Even when you’re in college, keep looking for scholarships. Who doesn’t want free money?
Start early! Start now!