Scholarships, aka free college money, often seem like four-leaf clovers: magical and hard to find. There are, however, several free resources available to help students find scholarships. Some of the most common include Fastweb, Unigo and Scholarships.com. Newcomer ScholarshipOwl, where you can apply for hundreds of scholarships with one application, is also gaining in popularity. But, when do you start and, more importantly, how do you win? If you’re new to the scholarship game, check out these 5 things everyone should know about scholarships before you start your epic quest.
1. There’s Something for Everyone
Unless you’re an alien from outer space, there’s a scholarship for you. Of course, there are some that are restricted to those who have stellar grades or test scores (merit-based scholarships) or those with financial need. But there are also thousands of other scholarship programs that cater to a plethora of different interests. Don’t believe us? Check out some of these fun scholarships:
- Walking Dead fan? Try Unigo’s $2,000 Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship.
- Interested in drones? Apply for one of two $1,000 Drone Technology College Scholarships.
- The $10,000 Nikon Storytellers Scholarship should be on your list if you plan to pursue a career in the visual arts, journalism, film or multimedia.
- Current, future, or past college student? Check out the $1,000 Valentine’s Day Scholarship.
- If you’re tired of distracted drivers on the road, you’ll want to apply for the $1,000 Getting Real About Distracted Driving Scholarship.
- Love helping animals? The $1,000 Scholars Helping Collars Scholarship would be purr-fect for you.
If you’re having trouble locating a scholarship that seems to mesh with your interests or academic background, head over to How to Win Scholarships on Facebook. “The Scholarship Mom” is a great resource for anyone interested in finding and winning scholarships.
2. Start Early & Don’t Stop
Did you know that there are scholarships you can apply for even before you enter high school? It’s true! Most students, however, make the mistake of waiting until senior year to start searching for and applying to scholarships. To increase your chances of winning a scholarship, start your search no later than your freshman year of high school. Some scholarships, such as the $30,000 Doodle for Google Scholarship, are even open to students in elementary school.
The point is, don’t wait until you’re applying for college to get on the scholarship train. Apply early and apply often. In fact, you should keep submitting scholarship applications until your last semester of college. The only exception to that rule is the new $2,500 Student Loan Relief Scholarship. It’s the only scholarship we know of that past college students and recent graduates can apply to and use the money to help pay down their student loan debt.
3. Don’t Apply to Everything Under the Sun
Most students who get frustrated with scholarships make the same mistake – applying to every scholarship they can find. Instead of spending hours filling out applications for programs you have no interest in, focus your time on three to five per month that really pique your interest. You’ll enjoy working on the applications and essays more, and your enthusiasm will shine through. Reducing the number of applications will also give you more time for revisions, ensuring you submit your best work. And here’s another tip – look for scholarships that require more work. More work means that fewer students will apply, which increases your chances of winning.
4. Be Original & Creative
If you are required to submit an essay for a scholarship program, be sure your work is both original and creative. You basically have two to three sentences to grab the reader’s attention. It can be difficult to stand out in a sea of scholarship applicants, but here are a few tips that will improve your chances of getting the scholarship committee’s attention:
- Never open your essay with the scholarship prompt. This is not only unoriginal but also unnecessary. A well-written essay makes the subject clear without being obvious.
- Avoid using quotes. Unless citing a specific quote is part of the essay instructions, refrain from adding one to your work. It’s not creative and seriously overused.
- Don’t plagiarize! Scholarship providers often use tools to check for plagiarized content. Don’t risk being disqualified by using someone else’s work.
- Stay on topic. If the essay prompt asks you to write a Mother’s Day card to your mom, don’t add a laundry list of your academic achievements and awards or explain why you should win the scholarship. It’s not relevant and will send your essay to the “rejected” pile ASAP.
Make sure your work is grammatically correct and free from typos. And, more importantly, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
5. Don’t Expect to Win Them All
Scholarships take work. You will put in hours each month submitting applications, but that doesn’t mean you will win them all, even if you narrow down your list. It may take 20, 45 or even 72 scholarship application rejections before you finally win. Does that mean scholarships aren’t worth the effort? No, just do the math. Let’s say you put in 20 hours over three months and win one scholarship valued at $1,000. That equates to $50 an hour. Pretty good return on investment, right? Don’t get discouraged if you don’t win right away. Keep at it and you’ll eventually be rewarded.
Scholarships are a great way to keep your student loan debt to a minimum. If you’re a high school senior, current college student, or recent graduate, we invite you to apply for one of our monthly MoneySolver scholarship programs. You can use the money for current or future college expenses, or you can pay down existing student loan debt. The choice is yours!