Winning a scholarship can make a tremendous difference with your overall cost of college. Any scholarship money that you win is free money. You may have to work to earn it but you get to keep whatever you win without stressing over interest rates and repayment schedules. It’s never too early to learn how to apply for scholarships.
The more scholarship money you earn, the less you will have to borrow by way of student loans. (Or pay out of pocket) Therefore, it’s totally worth taking the time to understand the scholarship process.
When it comes to scholarships, there are four main things you need to know:
- Where to search for scholarships
- How to apply for scholarships
- When and how you will receive the scholarship money
- How scholarships affect financial aid
1. Where To Search For Scholarships
The best place to start your search for scholarships is online. When you search online, you will find hundreds of scholarships offered by all sorts of organizations. From large multi-national businesses to local community organizations. Every opportunity will typically have its own set of eligibility criteria and requirements that applicants have to meet if they want a chance of winning the award money.
The criteria for these scholarships range from academic excellence and athletic accomplishments to achievements in specific extracurricular activities. You may find some for artistic talent, or belonging to a certain religion, community, or demographic. You will also find several weird scholarships, such as those offered for the student who speak Klingon, or the person who puts together the most creative PBJ sandwich.
Despite the numerous opportunities, you will find online, it would be a mistake to limit your search to the internet. Most of these scholarships are highly competitive. You have to be at the top of your game to stand a chance of winning any award money. It’s not impossible – just a bit more difficult.
You will find less competitive scholarship opportunities when you look closer to home. As a way of giving back to the community, many local businesses offer scholarships to support the higher education goals of students within their area. You will find these opportunities posted up on your high school notice board, the local newspaper, and various community forums. Since these opportunities are local, the competition is much lower.
One resource you should definitely not overlook in your search for scholarships is your high school counselor. Counselors make a note of opportunities so that they can pass the information on to students who come asking.
Last but not least, ask your parents to check with their employers. Many organizations offer scholarships to their employees’ dependents. It may not be an advertised perk of the job but a query at the HR office may yield surprising results.
2. How To Apply For Scholarships
Say you’ve found several scholarships you qualify for. Now it’s time to look into how to apply for scholarships.
These tips will help you put together exceptional scholarship applications that will increase your chances of winning.
- Read through the eligibility requirements.
Don’t skip this step. If you rush through the eligibility criteria, you could overlook an important requirement that may disqualify your application even if you are a strong contender for the award.
- Make a note of the deadlines.
To be fair to all applicants, no organization will even consider an application that reaches them after the deadline.
- Get your recommendation letters ready.
Some scholarships ask applicants to submit one or more recommendation letters. When they do, they will also specify who they want the letters from. Getting letters of recommendation can take time to think about who you want to approach and ask early so your letter writer has time to write a compelling letter recommending you for the scholarship award.
- Work on your essay.
While this may be the most challenging part of the scholarship application, with some thought and perseverance, you can ace it. Start by reading through the essay specifications carefully. Then create a draft that meets all of the points and also emphasizes why you think you are worthy of winning the award. Highlight your skills and accomplishments that are relevant to that particular award but be honest in doing this.
Every scholarship is different. Some may not ask for essays. Others may require an interview or portfolio. No matter the task, read the instructions carefully and give yourself plenty of time to draft and finalize.
3. Receiving the Scholarship Money
This may vary from one scholarship to another. The scholarship award letter will have details of the exact procedure.
Some organizations transfer the money directly to your college tuition account. The college deducts the amount necessary to cover your tuition, fees and other college-related expenses. They will then give you a check for the unused funds. Other scholarships might give the money directly to the winner.
4. How Scholarships Affect Other Financial Aid
You are required to inform your school’s finance office about any award money that you win. This is because the total amount of financial aid you get by way of scholarships, loans, grants and institutional aid cannot be more than the total cost of attendance for the academic year. When you notify your school about the scholarship money you’ve won, they will then recalculate the financial aid they offered you so that the total amount does not exceed the cost of attending their school. Ask your school’s financial aid office for more details about how your scholarship may affect your financial aid.
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