According to statistics from the 2014-2015 educational year, over half of all college students took advantage of either a grant or a scholarship. Perhaps more interestingly, in that same time-frame, nearly $3 billion in scholarship money was left on the table by students. The reasons for this are complex and can’t be easily discerned, but the bottom line is that students need to be more aware of avenues that can assist them with college tuition, and how winning a scholarship can benefit them.
Winning a scholarship isn’t easy—after all, there’s a reason that they’re considered to be so exclusive. However, there are steps you can take that increase your chances at a major award. Before we get into it, let’s be clear: the following tips are largely dependent on the criteria of the specific award you’re applying for. That being said, here are some ways that will generally assist you on your quest for a great scholarship:
Make yourself stand out
Like many other aspects of life, scholarships are an intense competition, and the best way to gain an edge is to separate yourself from the pack. This, of course, means to highlight your skills and best abilities. To be clear, don’t do something like, say, filling out applications in crayon, as a friend of the author did to try to make himself stand out. Needless to say, he did not receive the scholarship.
What you should do, though, is play to your strengths. If you’re a great writer, make sure you knock the personal essay or affirmation out of the park. Don’t forget that the scholarship committee will be reading through application after application, and if you have the ability to be memorable in your writing, it’s a huge advantage. If you have a ton of great experience in a relevant field, make sure you get that point across. Think of this like a sales pitch: your job is to convince those in power that you are worthy of their top prize. The product you’re selling is yourself, your skills, and your commitment to academics. Be sure to make an impression that will last.
Winning means using your resources
Ever heard the expression “it’s not what you know, but who you know”? The older you get, the more true you’ll find this statement to be. Even though you must be able to stand on your own merits, there’s no shame at all in asking your personal connections for a helping hand. Think about politely asking a favorite teacher or even a trusted friend to look over your personal statement or your essay. Those who know you best will have no issue telling you where you’ve messed up or what you should improve.
Additionally, letters of recommendation have influence on scholarship committees. Often, these are expected to be from teachers, but, if the rules of the scholarship allow for it, a different type of respected mentor you’ve forged a bond with can be a major boost to your reputation. This could be a prominent community member, a religious leader, or even a family friend that can speak to your personal growth and commitments. Once you’ve submitted the application, you could also personally reach out to the committee to thank them for the opportunity and, without being overbearing, ask if there’s any further steps you should take. It’s important not to cross any lines, but forming a personal connection with those deciding your fate is never a bad idea.
Get ahead of the game
Time management is a vital life skill, and it’s always important to know your schedule before you start any engagement. The scholarship application process is hardly an exception. It’s crucial to understand your time-frame for submission and the parameters for receiving money. Is the award given on a rolling basis or does it have a hard deadline? Additionally, it’s important to hand in your form early. Most scholarships won’t penalize you if you don’t turn in your application as early as possible, but some give special consideration to students who submit their information earlier.
If you can shift your application to the top of the pile via early submission, that already puts some points in your column and helps you on your way to winning the award. From a different perspective, applying as soon as submissions open is a good way to lift the burden of responsibility. Knock out those applications as soon as you can, and you’ll feel much more at ease, having done all you can towards winning a major scholarship (click here for our scholarship checklists to help you stay on top of things).
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