Planning to wait until senior year to begin your scholarship search? Yikes! You may lose out on thousands of dollars for college.
It’s true that most scholarship applications are submitted in senior year. That’s the easy part. The challenge is finding and meeting the specific conditions each sponsor requires. Go ahead and type the word “scholarship” into any search engine. You’ll get over 40 million hits because scholarships can be awarded for just about anything. They may be designed to encourage you to stay involved in an activity, encourage your pursuit of a particular field of study or stimulate your community involvement. Or they may be just straight-up competitions. With so many opportunities available and websites devoted to scholarships, how can you focus?
1. Bring your “A” game.
List your attributes, aspirations, achievements and affiliations. This will help jumpstart your creativity in brainstorming areas to search.
2. Think creatively.
The easier the scholarship is to find, the harder it is to win. Why? Because tons of students will be applying for it. When looking online, think of the various buzz words that might trigger a positive search result.
3. Get organized.
Don’t rely on your ability to recall tomorrow a scholarship lead you came across today — track it. Use Excel or your smartphone’s calendar or app to record all scholarship leads. Note the sponsors’ contact information and how you found them, the requirements and the application period — when you can start the application and the last day to submit it.
4. Be diligent.
Pay attention to the results as they may lead you to another opportunity. For example, in addition to national organizations, student chapters of various professional societies often have local chapters with independent budgets and opportunities.
5. Remain realistic.
Scholarship awards do not have to be repaid but they do require a great amount of effort to secure. Plan to devote a few hours each week to searching and preparing to meet the requirements of the individual sponsors.
6. Start early.
Like ninth-grade early. If you haven’t started looking by the end of your freshman year, you’re late. Many scholarships have requirements with significant lead time — preparing a portfolio, gathering recommendations or partaking in a particular student society. Few seniors have the time to devote to a serious search with standardized tests, admissions applications and essays due. But what if you’re already a senior and waited until now? Be selective in your applications, using your limited time to focus on those scholarships you’re most likely to win. Then start researching scholarships for upperclassmen already established in their disciplines you can pursue in the future.
7. Begin locally.
Increase your odds of success and begin with your community. Scholarships that are limited to local students may be easier to win than national ones. Ask teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, instructors and other community officials to keep you in mind for potential awards offered through any civic groups to which they belong. Sponsors love candidates with a drive. Many companies offer scholarships for their employees’ children and grandchildren. Check with the benefits offices of all companies that employ members of your family.
Don’t forget the local media. Community sponsors often announce the opening of an application period through local radio, television and newspapers. Libraries and, believe it or not, supermarkets may also be collection spots for local sponsors. When was the last time you scanned the bulletin board at your local market?
Earn scholarships by starting early and taking the steps necessary to position yourself to win. Whether you’re a freshman in high school planning for your first college year or a senior looking ahead, use this time to identify and track potential opportunities so you’re ready to go once the application period begins.
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