College isn’t cheap, and applying for scholarships can be a difficult process to navigate — so here are eight things you should know before your senior year.
1. Don’t wait until your college applications are done to start applying for scholarships. Too many students wait until after Christmas break–when most college applications are due–to start applying to scholarships. Unfortunately, by this point, most of the heavy-hitting scholarships have already passed by; the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, and many others have deadlines early on in the fall semester. It’s also worth keeping in mind that some scholarships are only open to junior students. The QuestBridge College Prep Scholarship is a great way to kick-off your search!
2. Prep responses to the common essay topics ahead of time. Like college applications, most scholarship programs will ask you approximately the same questions–just disguised in different ways. It pays to have essays prepped ahead of time (perhaps over the summer) that describe: your family and the culture in which you grew up, any unusual circumstances or hardships you’ve experienced, your goals and aspirations, and accomplishments and leadership experience to date. As a general rule, most scholarship essay prompts are capped at 500 words. You may run into a few that are longer–the Gates Millennium Scholarship features eight prompts up to 1000 words each. Don’t procrastinate on those applications, or this will be you:
3. Familiarize yourself with application formats. You may find that many of the scholarships you apply to use the same platform to collect responses. For example, the AXA Achievement and AXA Community Scholarships, the Burger King Scholarship, and the GE-Reagan Scholarship all collect applications through the same online platform: Scholarship Management Services. You’re typically allowed to list up to ten extracurricular activities (each with two slots to list leadership roles, and two slots to list awards and honors), up to ten community service activities (same deal here), and up to eight work experiences. The only exception we’ve found so far is with the AXA Scholarships, which allow up to twenty extracurricular and community service activities each (the most of any scholarship we’ve run across where space is not simply unlimited is the Coca-Cola Scholars application, which features twenty-one slots for each category).
The other popular online platform you’ll find being used for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, the NFIB Scholarship, and the Ronald McDonald House Scholarship is the ApplyISTS website. While the questions always differ from application to application, it’s definitely worth familiarizing yourself with the site–it can be difficult to navigate at first, but you can avoid aimlessly jumping from page to page by familiarizing yourself with the site beforehand.
Finally, keep in mind that though initial applications may be short, some scholarship programs will require you to submit an extensive packet of information–often including up to three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a list of other scholarships you may be applying to, a list of extracurricular and community service activities, work experience, essays, financial documentation, and more–if you make it to a certain level of competition.
4. Actively search out local scholarships. It’s easy to focus on the national programs, since they tend to offer the most amount of money, but you have a much better chance of winning local scholarships–and those can add up quickly. One of the most reliable way to find local scholarships is simply to google “[your city goes here] scholarships”, but it’s also worth checking in with local Veterans’ Associations and other philanthropic clubs and organizations.
5. Take advantage of the free services at your disposal. While googling around might be one of the best methods to find local scholarships, identifying national programs is much easier when you’ve signed up on a free website such as Fastweb, Cappex, Zinch, Niche, Unigo, GoodCall, MyScholly and more–these websites sort scholarships by type, deadline, and a variety of other filters, and can automatically match you to scholarships that you’re eligible to apply for.
6. Apply to many different scholarships. Much like the college admissions process, the scholarship award process doesn’t always make sense–one student e-nnounced on GoEnnouce that she had been rejected for a $300 scholarship, only to become a National Finalist in a $20000 scholarship program that same day! Don’t count on any one program or waste time by stressing out over the nuances of eligibility requirements: apply around to lots of programs and see what comes about.
7. Have enough recommenders. There is one disadvantage to applying to lots of scholarships, though–you can quickly wear out your teachers with all of your requests. Consider asking your guidance counselor for a bin of signed, sealed official transcripts at the beginning of the year so you don’t have to approach him or her every time you find an application. Similarly, you can ask the teachers you’d like to recommend you to craft a general letter that they can later modify on a scholarship-by-scholarship basis (instead of writing a new one every time).
8. Finally, pay attention to how scholarship payments are dispersed. Many of the scholarships you’ll apply to in high school can only be applied towards your freshman year tuition and expenses–and you’re typically not allowed to take a gap year, either. This can mean that you’ll be paying full price for college for the remaining years if you’re not careful. Be sure to be aggressive in identifying renewable scholarships and take note of scholarships you can apply to the following years that will go towards sophomore, junior and senior year expenses.
You’ll also want to pay special attention to what expenses the scholarship money can be applied to; some cover only tuition or fees, or room & board, while some cover a partial combination of those. If you’re a low-income student, look into scholarships where the award money goes directly to you (like the GoEnnounce Monthly Scholarship!) rather than directly to your intended college or university. Winning these kinds of scholarships will enable you to buy materials necessary to flesh out the rest of your educational expenses: a laptop, notebooks, etc.
We hope these scholarship tips will help you in your journey towards college!
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