Getting scholarships to help pay for tuition is one of the smartest ways to lessen college expenses. However, many students, assuming they won’t qualify or be selected from a crowded field of applicants, shy away from the process — combining a misconception with a mistake. A shocking number of scholarships are out there, with so many different criteria, there’s almost certainly one that’s attainable for everybody.
College tuition and fees continue to rise, and you’ll need to explore different ways to bring down those costs. Scholarships are a golden opportunity you don’t want to miss out on, so do everything you can to make yourself memorable to scholarship and admissions officials. Take a look at these tips and tricks to help make your applications stand out from the rest.
1. Understand the criteria
Not everyone is eligible for every scholarship. Since understanding the types of scholarship you can pursue will help you focus on the opportunities you stand the best chance of securing, it’s important to know the differences between merit-based, need-based, and luck-based awards.
- Merit-based scholarships are privately funded awards based on academic performance or by rewarding talent in a specific area (e.g., the arts or athletics).
- Need-based scholarships are determined by financial need and are offered by a variety of organizations.
- Luck-based scholarships are organized like lotteries, contests or sweepstakes. All applicants are subject to the same criteria, and winners are picked at random.
You don’t want to waste your time filling out applications you aren’t eligible to win. When you find the ones you do qualify for, be sure to follow that organization’s criteria and application directions exactly. If you miss a step, you’re likely to lose out on the opportunity.
2. Find your niche(s)
Many scholarships are narrowly targeted toward students with particular life experiences, cultural backgrounds, life challenges, or other unique determining factors. Others are geared toward those who have done volunteer work (for example, with AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps) or who are pursuing a specific degree. Still others are designated for people who live in a particular city, county, or state, or belong to a particular organization.
- Look for free scholarship search engines on the web to help you to identify all the niches you fit into. You’re almost certain to find numerous opportunities you’d never dreamed would exist. For example, many retail chains offer scholarships to non-employees.
- Be sure to avoid search engines or websites that charge fees or ask for too much personally identifying information to find scholarships; these are nearly always scams. Always beware of scammers and know the red flags to look for when seeking scholarships. Some scammers mask themselves as a service, but are really out to steal your money or identity.
Basically, the more accurately you can match your own attributes with any and all niches of scholarship criteria, the more you’ll increase your chances of earning one scholarship or more.
3. Show your true self
Many organizations that generously offer scholarship money to students want to see the real you. So don’t be afraid to show your humanity; judges like to see this. As you get started, put serious thought into a thorough brainstorming session and pull together a solid outline of the attributes and ideas you want to emphasize about yourself.
- Note your personal strengths and accomplishments.
- Be modest, but not too modest. Demonstrate any activities and qualities that highlight why you’re a good scholarship candidate.
- If the organization asks for weaknesses, pick a true one and turn it into a positive. (Everyone has weaknesses, don’t say you don’t have any).
- Be honest with your answers. Never try to fake your responses to try to sound “better.”
- Write a killer essay. Reveal anything unique about yourself — tell a funny story, describe an event that changed your life, or highlight anything else interesting to help the readers remember you after they’ve finished reading.
Ideally, through your essay and everything else in your application package, you want to strike a balance between humility and letting your accomplishments shine.
4. Polish your presentation
Once you’ve finished your application, essay, and other documents, be sure to spend time polishing your presentation.
- Make sure you’ve ticked off each box of the scholarship application requirements.
- Double-check and read all documents again to be sure they are free of typos or other mistakes.
- Ask another person, such as a parent or teacher, to review your documents, especially your writing, to ensure it’s flawless. A fresh pair of eyes to review is very important; they’ll almost always find something you didn’t see, and help make your work that much better.
Preparing your presentation is one task you definitely don’t want to rush through. Make it the very best it can be before you send it out.
5. Go for quality AND quantity
Quality matters, but in this case, so does quantity. The more scholarships you apply to, statistically, the better your odds become of winning one. However, you need to be sure to give yourself adequate time to complete each application; the process always takes longer than you think it will. Start sooner than later, so you’ll have the time to apply to as many scholarships as you can. Don’t let the applications sit until the deadline is near.
Chances are, there will be a lot of competition in some scholarship categories, so it makes smart financial sense to do everything you can to make your scholarship applications excel. Besides, winning one not only helps pay for tuition or other expenses; it also brings you a great feeling of accomplishment, as well!