So, you’d like to apply for scholarships, but the idea of getting started overwhelms you. What’s the best approach that will give you a better chance of actually receiving scholarship money?
I recently talked with Kevin Ladd, vice president of Scholarships.com, a free college scholarship search and financial aid information resource. Kevin had several ideas about the best ways for students to go about the scholarship search and put the odds of receiving funds in their favor.
If you’re in high school, you should start researching scholarships as a freshman. While you might not be eligible to apply for very many scholarships that early, you will help yourself by getting educated on the types of scholarships out there. “If you’re a parent of 12- or 13-year-old students, start talking now about how you’ll pay for college, and spend a little time researching scholarships every week,” Kevin suggests. Not only does this help students get familiar with the attributes that scholarship organizations look for, it builds their confidence. “Once the students who do this start applying, they won’t be nearly as intimidated because they’re familiar with the process.”
Cast a Wide Net
By the time you’re a junior in high school, you should be “aggressively pursuing every scholarship you can find,” Kevin says. That means carefully screening scholarships to see if you fit their criteria and paying attention to application details and deadlines. You can create a profile on www.scholarships.com in about 20 minutes and very quickly narrow down the options to only those scholarships for which you seem most qualified. “I suggest students start with the top 10 or 20 scholarships on their list and go after each one methodically, then start in on the next 10 to 20,” Kevin says. “The most successful scholarship recipients I’ve talked to who used our database to help them in their scholarship search applied for literally hundreds of scholarships.”
If you’re applying for more than a few scholarships, it can quickly become difficult to keep them all straight in your head, so put together a simple system to keep track. “Create a spreadsheet with the scholarship name, application deadline, date you sent the application, brief information on the application process, and those sorts of details,” Kevin suggests. If you’re keeping hard copies, consider an accordion file with separate folders for each scholarship’s application copy, details, essays, and letters of reference.
Search within Your Community
While a robust database like scholarships.com or fastweb.com has millions of scholarships, it’s always a good idea to look within your community, too. Kevin suggests expanding your horizons by doing the following:
- Check with your employer (or your parent’s employer) about things like tuition reimbursement and employee scholarship funds.
- Contact local community foundations—especially those to which you have some connection—to see if they offer scholarships. Examples include the Elks Lodge, the Knights of Columbus, and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
- Research local opportunities for scholarships at places such as banks, churches, companies, and nonprofits.
Don’t Forget the Basics as You Search for Scholarships:
- Hit it hard in the fall. Most scholarship deadlines are between October and March.
- Apply for financial aid. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 as possible—even if you don’t plan on taking out loans. Many colleges use the FAFSA as their primary scholarship application as well as their financial aid form. At FRCC, the financial aid priority deadline is March 1.
- If you’re a high school student, get to know your guidance counselor. You should stop by your guidance counselor’s office often, because new scholarships arise all year long. The scholarships that come into their office may be different than those you find on your own.
- If you’re a college student, get to know the financial aid people at your school. If you’re just applying, still reach out to those people. They will help you understand what institutional scholarships are available to you and how you can apply.
Throughout this process, keep in mind that persistence does pay off. “Whether you are a high school student or a nontraditional student, it is important to try hard for scholarships,” Kevin says. “It takes time and effort, but use the tools available to you and keep at it. Even if you don’t have perfect grades or a stellar resume, you can get scholarships if you work at it.”