The process of finding and applying for college scholarships can be taxing, especially since you may be doing it for the first time in your life and may not be entirely sure how to proceed. Don't worry, though—we have a few tips to help you think outside the box to find and earn more funds. This article will show you exactly how you can conduct a scholarship search.
Step One: Understand What's Required in a Scholarship Search
There are two main types of scholarships: need-based and merit-based. Need-based scholarships are generally offered by a university on the basis of financial need. Merit-based scholarships generally require more work to get, but anyone can apply for them regardless of their financial situation.
Merit-based scholarships require you to prove that you are deserving of the scholarship based on your academic and/or extracurricular resume. To do this, you'll need to prove that you meet—or even go above and beyond—the requirements for the scholarship.
This is where scholarship essays come in. You might also have to dig up academic reports, records of accomplishments, or other material. Sometimes, you might even have to find a trusted friend or mentor to write you a personal letter of recommendation.
It can definitely be time-consuming to find and apply for these scholarships, but it's also worth it, regardless of the scholarship amount. Many people will forego applying for smaller scholarships of $500 or less (which may make the odds better for you), though even this amount can have a huge impact on your wallet down the line. For example, if you took out a $500 loan at a 6 percent interest rate instead of receiving a $500 scholarship, by the time you pay off that $620 in 10 years' time, you'll have paid several hundred additional dollars in interest. So, that $500 scholarship will have saved you more than $500.
Step Two: Pick the Right Timing
If you're still in high school, the best time to get started with finding and applying for scholarships is the summer between your junior and senior years, according to the Department of Education. This ensures that you have the greatest amount of time possible to apply for any scholarships available now, and you can also find any scholarships you might be able to apply for in the future. As a bonus, you won't be as busy with schoolwork during this time.
Still, if you're a high school senior or already in college, there's no time like the present to get started. Plenty of scholarships out there are still ripe for the picking. For example, the GE - Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program is open to high school seniors, and the GEICO Achievement Award is available to college sophomores and juniors.
Step Three: Come Up With a Plan
It's a good idea to come up with a scholarship search plan and to commit to it for a certain number of hours per week. That way, you know exactly what you'll be doing, and you'll be less likely to procrastinate. For example, committing to four hours per week (and putting it on the books) will make it more likely you'll reach your scholarship application goals.
It's a good idea to organize the scholarships you find in a spreadsheet. You can include things like the scholarship name, URL, application deadline, application requirements, and status (for example: application sent or not yet sent?). As you come across new potential scholarships, be sure to add them to the spreadsheet so that you don't forget about them, and so that you know if you've already applied to them or not. This will help you stay organized throughout your scholarship search so you're not looking up the same information multiple times.
Step Four: Look for Scholarships
Several sites give you the flexibility to find many scholarships quickly, such as Scholly and FastWeb. We've also rounded up our favorite scholarship search tools in this post. CommonBond is also currently offering three scholarships for MBA students, through April 30.
Don't forget about going the old-fashioned route and scope out any organizations or hobbies that may be relevant to you and your interests. For example, if you're interested in STEM, there are thousands of related companies and organizations that may offer scholarships, such as HP or Google. There are scholarships for just about every interest, even for ones you may not expect like duck calling and competing in rodeos.
You can also consider joining a military program at school. Many of these programs offer scholarships or loan repayment programs, and some of them even offer full-ride scholarships.
Step Five: Set Up a Rewards System
Let's be honest—it can be tough to find and apply for scholarships, often to get little or no reward for your hard work. Instead, try setting up a system to motivate yourself.
For example, you can treat yourself to something nice after every five or so scholarship applications you complete, or every five hours of searching you do. Parents can also help students by pledging a small amount of cash to their child's college fund so that they see some monetary return, or by offering small gifts like movie tickets.
Finding and applying for scholarships can be difficult—that's why a lot of people don't do it. But by committing to the process, coming up with a strategy, and setting up a rewards system, you'll have an advantage. Your future self will thank you for it.