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One of the scariest and most challenging things about going to college can be figuring out how to pay for it – especially if you're going to college in the US. However, the process of finding scholarships is not as daunting as you may think. Schools, corporations, and nonprofit organizations give out millions of dollars in scholarships each year. Some are merit-based, meaning you need particular grades and test scores to qualify. You qualify for others based on your background or membership in particular groups.
Method 1 Searching for Scholarship Opportunities
- Make a list of your hobbies and interests. While many scholarships are merit-based, there are plenty of scholarships available specifically for students that have particular interests or participate in various activities. Even your obsession with a TV show or movie could land you a few hundred dollars in scholarship money.
- Think of your strengths and talents as well. For example, if you're a good writer, you might include "writing" as an interest on your list. Go further and specify the types of writing you enjoy, such as short stories or poetry.
- Some hobbies and interests require you to provide samples when you apply for a scholarship. For example, if you apply for an art scholarship, you might need to submit a portfolio of your work.
- Write down your affiliations and characteristics. You may qualify for scholarships based on your religious, social, or political affiliations. Scholarship opportunities may also be available based on your gender identity, race, ethnicity, or sexuality.
- Make a list of people you know who could possibly serve as references for you based on each particular affiliation. For example, if you want to look for religious-based scholarships, you might need a reference letter from the pastor of your church.
- Have your parents check with their employers about scholarships. If you have a part-time job while in school, your employer also may have scholarships available.
- Be honest with your affiliations. Claiming an affiliation you don't really have could get you in serious disciplinary trouble.
Tip: Some scholarships are given based on financial need. You'll need information from your parents or guardians about your family's financial status to determine whether you qualify for these scholarships.
- Start researching during the summer before your senior year. Some scholarships have relatively early deadlines, particularly those that can be applied to your cost of attendance at any school. You'll find more opportunities if you start looking as soon as possible – ideally, during your junior year of high school.
- The reference section of your public library is also a good place to look for scholarships. A research librarian can point you in the right direction and help you find scholarships you might qualify for.
- Talk to your high school guidance counselor. High school guidance counselors have training in locating scholarships for students. Your guidance counselor may be able to point you toward opportunities that would take you a lot of time and effort to find on your own.
- Larger public high schools may have a single guidance counselor who works on nothing but college acceptances and financial aid. Smaller schools, however, may have fewer resources.
- Contact the financial aid offices of schools where you've been accepted. Many scholarships are offered directly by colleges and universities. If you've filled out financial aid forms, you may be entered for some of these scholarships automatically. However, you typically have to indicate interest and complete a separate application.
- The financial aid office's page on the school's website often will have information on various scholarships that are available.
- Check scholarship opportunities at several schools before you decide where you want to go. Most outside scholarships can be used at any school, but school scholarships can only be applied to your cost of attendance at that school.
- Try free online search engines to find scholarships. There are many large scholarship databases provided by government agencies or independent organizations. You can search these for free using keywords based on your lists of interests and affiliations.
- FastWeb, FinAid.org, and Scholarship.com have large online scholarship search engines. The U.S. Department of Labor also has a scholarship search tool available at https://www.careeronestop.org/toolkit/training/find-scholarships.aspx.
- FinAid.org includes some more unusual scholarships available for students with more obscure hobbies, interests, and affiliations.
- Ask about scholarships from religious or community organizations. If you are a member of a religious or community organization, you may be able to find a scholarship there. You can also ask any organization or group that you've volunteered with.
- Even if your specific group or organization doesn't offer scholarships, they may be able to point you to scholarships offered at the regional or national level.
Method 2 Applying for Scholarships
- Check the requirements and qualifications. Each scholarship has its own specific application requirements. Many applications may be similar, but none will be exactly the same. Some may require you to write an essay, while others may need letters of recommendation.
- It can help to group similar scholarships together so you can complete the applications at the same time. Since you'll be repeating a lot of the same information, doing them at the same time will be more efficient.
- Make notes about essays you need to write, letters of recommendation you need to get (with names), and other documents or information you need to gather before you can complete the application.
- Mark deadlines on your calendar. If you miss a deadline, you may be disqualified from a scholarship that you otherwise would have been awarded. Make an estimate of how long it will take you to complete an application so you can work on it a little at a time.
- Schedule intermediate steps towards completing the application so you're not trying to do everything at the last minute. For example, if you need a letter of recommendation, schedule a day to request that letter and give the person a deadline several weeks before the scholarship's deadline.
- Get letters of recommendation from teachers and community leaders. When asking for a letter of recommendation, approach the person as soon as possible so they have plenty of time to work on it. Give them a deadline for their letter, but also let them know your final deadline to apply for the scholarship.
- People who write your letters of recommendation should be people who know you well. A recommendation from a well-known or highly successful person won't help you win a scholarship if they aren't personally familiar with your background and accomplishments.
- If you're applying for a scholarship related to a particular affiliation or interest, make sure the person who writes your letter knows about you and your accomplishments in that context. For example, if you're applying for a religious scholarship, you might ask for a letter of recommendation from your youth group leader or the pastor of your church.
Tip: Check the information you have on the scholarship to determine how letters of recommendation need to be submitted. Some scholarships want you to collect the letters yourself and turn them in with your application, while others want the writer to send the letter of recommendation directly to them.
- Write your scholarship application essays. Many scholarship applications require you to write an essay describing your background and interests and why you think you deserve to win the scholarship. Be honest in your essays, and avoid exaggerating any experiences or accomplishments.
- Creating an outline will ensure that your essay is organized and cohesive.
- Have a teacher or other trusted adult read over your essay before you submit it – and listen to their advice. Be prepared to go through several drafts to reach your best work.
Tip: Don't reinvent the wheel. There's usually no need to write a dozen different essays from scratch. Instead, write and polish a single essay that you can adapt for several different applications.
- Submit your application before the deadline. To make sure you're not late, have your applications ready to go at least 2 weeks before the final deadline. That way you'll have time to polish and make any final changes before you send it off.
- If you need to mail in a paper application, use certified mail with return receipt requested so you'll know when your application was received.
- Even if you can submit your application electronically, don't wait until the last minute. Unexpected internet or computer problems could cause you to miss the deadline.
- Continue to apply for scholarships while in college. Keep in contact with your school's financial aid department and let them know that you're interested in new opportunities. There are many scholarships that are only available for continuing students, or students in certain years.
- For example, there are some scholarships and grants that are only available to students who will be graduating within a year. These opportunities are typically designed to help cover graduation costs.
- Some scholarships are only available to students with a certain major. Typically you need to be at least a sophomore before you can declare a major, so those scholarships wouldn't be available to you until then.
Tip: Once you declare a major, talk to your professors or the head of the department to find out what scholarship opportunities are available for students in that department.
Method 3 Avoiding Scholarship Scams
- Be suspicious of guarantees or "easy money" claims. Nobody just gives money away for people to go to college. No matter how well-qualified you are, no scholarship is ever guaranteed. There will always be others who are just as qualified as you are. If a business or organization claims it can guarantee you a certain amount of scholarship money, it's likely a scam.
- A scam is especially likely if the business or organization makes a guarantee without seeing any information about you. Absent access to your grades and standardized test scores, no one can even make a prediction about how much scholarship money you could get – much less a guarantee.
- Many scammers will use simple, one-page applications to target students who've grown weary of long, complicated scholarship applications, or who feel intimidated by the thought of having to write essays or gather substantial information and documents. These minimal applications will seldom yield much, if any, scholarship money.
- Ignore high-pressure sales tactics. Legitimate companies that want to help you find scholarships have no reason to pressure you into signing up with them. If you see phrases such as "hurry up and call today" or "limited space available," the company may be trying to scam you.
- You may also get a phone call or email stating that you've already won a scholarship, but you have to attend a seminar or pay a fee first.
Tip: Some scammers will send you an official looking email announcing that you've won a scholarship – but you never applied for the scholarship. Double-check these emails against your own calendar or list of scholarship applications.
- Review communications for spelling and grammatical errors. Any communication from a legitimate scholarship assistance firm or foundation offering scholarships would be professionally proofread. Obvious errors are a sure sign that the offer is a scam.
- Strange or messy formatting can also be a sign that an email is coming from a scammer rather than a legitimate source.
- Double-check credentials before providing personal information. Sometimes a scammer will impersonate a legitimate scholarship and send you an email asking for additional information before processing your application. Don't click any links in the email – go directly to the legitimate scholarship site instead.
- These emails are used as an attempt to gain personal information from you, such as your birthday and Social Security number, that the scammer can use to steal your identity.
- Refuse to provide credit card or bank account numbers. While some perfectly legitimate businesses charge a fee to help you organize your scholarship search, you can get the same assistance for free. If a service requires you to provide a credit card number or banking information before you sign up, it's usually a scam.
- Even legitimate commercial advice services may cost more than $1,000, and they typically won't give you any more information than you could find yourself for free.