Scholarships and grants are, perhaps, the best way to pay for college. As a form of gift-aid, they do not have to be paid back, unlike loans. Students can apply for more scholarships as early as their freshman year in high school and as late as their final year of graduate school—and of course, anywhere in between the two, as is more common.
There are countless scholarships out there—ranging from the standard to the bizarre (did you know there’s a zombie apocalypse preparedness scholarship?)—and you should be hunting them down and applying to them frequently.
But there is a catch—you can only apply to the scholarships you actually qualify for. If, on the list of requirements, you meet most of them but not all, don’t bother applying because you won’t get it. For example: If a scholarship requires you having a 3.0 GPA or higher, a minimum score of 28 on the ACT, and an interest in becoming an engineering major, but you only scored a 26 on the ACT, you do not qualify. Save your time and energy for opportunities you do qualify for.
Sponsors of scholarships—whether they’re federal, institutional, or private sources—have specific reasons for putting up those scholarships, and so want to give them to certain deserving students. Maybe a business owner has a real passion for the arts, so he wants to give a scholarship to a student who paints—he’s not going to give that arts scholarship to someone who’s never held a paintbrush in their life. Or perhaps a retired professor wants to promote academic excellence in the younger generation, she likely won’t give it to someone who has a really low GPA.
So, you’ll want to really read the fine print when it comes to scholarships, and apply for as many as you qualify for. But how do you maximize the amount of scholarships you can apply to? How do you improve your chances of qualification?
Raise Your GPA for More Scholarships
Many scholarships have requirements surrounding GPA levels. While certainly not all of them are lofty GPAs like 4.0s, your odds of qualifying for scholarships will still increase the higher your GPA is. In general, if a scholarship includes a GPA requirement, the lowest they will go is around a 2.5 GPA. Study hard, do your work, seek help if you need it, and put your nose to the grindstone to increase your GPA, and lower your ultimate college debt.
Raise Your ACT / SAT Score
Like the GPA, many scholarships have a minimum requirement for ACT or SAT scores (though not entirely as common as the GPA qualifications). And again, the higher your score here, the higher your chances of qualifying. Luckily, studies show that when you retake the ACT / retake the SAT, your score is likely to go up. So go to your school’s review session, look up some free online ACT/SAT test prep help, and boost your scores! You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Raise Your Class Rank
This qualifier is definitely less common than the previous two, but still present. Class rank is determined by a combination of things, not the least of which are GPA and academic rigor. The higher you’re ranked, the higher your odds of qualification, as the scholarship might have a requirement of being within the top 25% of your class.
File the FAFSA
While you should definitely file the FAFSA anyway in order to apply for federal financial aid, many scholarships also require you to complete the FAFSA forms to measure financial need. This is, perhaps, the easiest of the ways to increase your odds of qualifying for scholarships—so go file it!
Participate in Community Service
Some scholarships are awarded to students who are involved in their communities. By volunteering your time, you’re not only giving back to the people in your community, but also boosting your chances for impressive resume-building, college applications, and of course scholarship qualifications.
Brush Up on Your Essay Skills
Many scholarships require an essay—the variety of topics are endless, and are largely dependent on the sponsor who funds the scholarship. A good essay is key, and so simple things like proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are a must. Proofread and edit! Also, selecting a essay topic, sticking to the application essay prompts, and having a well-thought out structure are important as well.
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