5 Things All Students Should Know Before Applying for College Scholarships

The process of preparing to apply for college can be an exciting time for students and their families. After all, many students are eager to be independent, live in a different environment, take interesting classes, and immerse themselves into everything a college campus has to offer. However, this process of getting ready to apply for (and subsequently attend) college can also quickly become a stressful one, specifically when the question “how are we going to pay for this?” comes into the picture.

College can be expensive, there’s no doubt about it. Applying for scholarships (free money which, unlike student loans, does not need to be repaid) can be a great solution for students looking to lower their college costs.

If you’re new to the process of searching and applying for scholarships, it can be an overwhelming journey to navigate. So, to help get you started on the right track, keep reading for our 5 things all students should know before applying for college scholarships.

1. There are many different types of scholarships out there to explore, and so many places to search for them.

A common myth about scholarships is that you have to have a perfect GPA, test scores, and overall academic profile in order to be eligible to apply. This couldn’t be further from the truth! While there are tons of merit-based scholarships out there, there are also need-based scholarships, no-essay scholarships, and opportunities that take both merit and need into account.

One easy way to get started with exploring all of the different types of opportunities is to create a list of what defines YOU as a person. What are your academic interests? What are your other interests and hobbies? Do you play a sport? What state and county are you from? Do you have financial need? What is your gender? Do you identify with a certain religion? Are you a first-generation student? By answering these types of questions for yourself, you are giving yourself tons of key terms that you can leverage when you’re actually going through and searching for scholarships.

Luckily, there is no shortage of places to find scholarships! Start by reaching out to your school counselor, or head over to your school’s college prep or scholarships page to see what local opportunities might be available for you to apply for. You can even reach out to other people within your community, such as family, friends, teachers, coaches, and religious leaders, to inquire about scholarships. Then, you can take your search to the web, and utilize scholarship search engines, normal search engines (like Google), your home state’s website, and specific college’s financial aid pages to learn more about scholarships that you’re eligible to apply for.

2. Not all scholarships have the same application requirements.

In your search, it’s likely that you’ll come across scholarships with all sorts of application requirements. Some scholarships, usually the full-ride or highly competitive opportunities, will have long lists of application requirements (think: letters of recommendation, multiple essays, transcript upload, resume submission). On the contrary, other scholarships might simply ask for you to fill out an application, upload a singular essay, or even perform an action within your community to enter.

One of the many tricks with applying for scholarships is to vary the type of scholarships you apply for. If you spent one week applying for several big-name scholarships with long lists of requirements, give yourself a break the week after and find some opportunities that require a little less work. Alternating your opportunities like this will help to alleviate some of the stress that often comes with the scholarship process, and hopefully lead you to more success!

3. It’s never too early to start applying, but it certainly can be too late!

One big mistake that many students make with scholarships is waiting until the very end of their senior year (or even waiting until their last year of college!) to sit down and apply for scholarships.

While many of the opportunities for high school students tend to be scholarships for high school seniors, there are certainly plenty of scholarships out there for high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. 

There are also tons of scholarships out there for college and graduate school students of all years. There are even some opportunities out there for middle school students too!

Because most scholarships are only open to current students (rather than recently graduated students paying off student debt and loans) it is important to make time to apply for scholarships while you’re currently enrolled in school, and to get started as early as possible!

4. To be a competitive applicant, think about what sets you apart from the pack.

The majority of scholarships out there will require an essay or some sort of creative submission to help the committee learn about who you are, what your goals are, and if you’re deserving of the specific scholarship.

These extra submissions are often critical, because, unlike your transcript, test scores, or even your resume, they actually give the committee the opportunity to learn about you on a deeper level. So, when you sit down to write that essay or upload that video, take some time in your brainstorming to think about how you can make your submission as unique as possible. Maybe that means starting your essay with a personal anecdote, a quote, or a statistic. Whatever it is, the better you can catch the committee’s eyes and ears, and make them think “Wow, this is original!” the more likely you’ll be in seeing success with your scholarship applications.

5. Rejection will happen – make the most of it by learning from your mistakes.

Finally, it is important to remember that the process of applying for scholarships is a competitive one. With millions of students out there trying to find ways to pay for their higher education, it’s no surprise that some scholarships see thousands and thousands of qualified applicants. This means that, at some point or another, you’re likely to face a rejection or two.

While it’s totally okay to be upset after getting rejected from a scholarship, it can be helpful to think about how you can turn that rejection into a learning experience, to make you a stronger applicant for future opportunities. If you can, ask the committee for feedback on your application. Additionally, you can run your essays by your school counselor or teacher to see if there is room for improvement.

By viewing rejection as an opportunity to make improvements for future applications, you’re putting yourself in the prime position to succeed in winning as many scholarships as possible!


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