12 Essential Scholarship Tips for Students

Enhance your chances of earning a scholarship with these search and application tips.

Edited By Christa Fletcher | August 15, 2014

Photo: ThinkStock

Everyone knows that college can be expensive, but there are many ways to offset the cost of your education. Applying for scholarships is the most economical way to pay for your tuition, housing, books and other higher education expenses. Plus, there are thousands of scholarships available for different types of students, so you can find the financial support you need. Though finding and applying for scholarships can be challenging, we've put together the most important tips every student show know.

Use these guidelines to get ahead of the curve and figure out how to fulfill your scholarship goals.

Students who give themselves plenty of time to find, plan and complete their scholarships early, are more likely to get them.

1. Start Your Scholarship Search Early

The old adage, "the early bird catches the worm," is particularly true for scholarship applications. Students who give themselves plenty of time to find, plan and complete their scholarships early, are more likely to get them. The more time you dedicate to writing your essays and finalizing your applications, the better your chances are of submitting them before the due date and (hopefully) winning those scholarships.

Why? Some scholarships require you to read an entire book, write a proposal or make a video. These tasks, in addition to essays, require a lot of time and thought, so start early and make sure you complete everything to your highest standards. Also, if you happen to submit you application early and the scholarship committee conducts interviews, you could be one of the first candidates to score some coveted face time with the committee. Way to set the bar!

Follow this tip and your hard work may (literally!) pay off in the end.

2. Organize Your Scholarship Applications

Once you've found all of the scholarships you want to apply for, you should create a detailed list with the deadlines and items you need for each application. There are many lists of scholarships online, but having one list that is customized for you is a great way to stay organized.

Organizing by due date is the best solution. This way you’ll be able to see which scholarships you’ll need to plan for ahead of time. If there are multiple scholarships due around the same time, you can also organize them by the award amount or the scholarships that fit your eligibility the most. Setting priorities is an easy way to manage your time.

3. List Your Accomplishments

Before you begin filling out scholarship applications, you need to create a list of accomplishments. Not only is this extremely helpful for scholarship season, it’s a good exercise for college applications and it makes you feel good, too! Scholarship committees want to hear about the awards and accolades you’ve won when making their decisions about candidates.

If you’ve never won an award, that’s okay. Extracurricular activities, having a high school job, volunteering, and good grades look great on the list of accomplishments, too. Showing the variety of your skills and talents will also give them a better perspective of your personality and work ethic. Plus, you'll have more to talk about if you score an interview with a scholarship committee.

4. Look for Scholarships Everywhere

You’ve probably looked at a few scholarship websites. Did you check with your school? Your guidance counselor? Your church? Your local government? Your college’s website? Local community organizations? Magazines or newspapers you like? Your job? Local businesses?

Scour the web and ask for advice from adults you admire in your local community. The more scholarship options you know about, the more chance you have of finding scholarships that fit your needs and eligibility criteria.

5. Be Selective With Letters of Recommendation

Find a few people who know you really well, have good things to say, and ask them to write you a letter of recommendation. Great letters of recommendation can make all the difference, and having them ready for your application is a smart way to be prepared for scholarships and college applications.

Teachers, mentors, coaches, community leaders and bosses are all ideal sources for letters of recommendation. Think about the activities you do and then consider which people can speak to your achievements, personality and skills in those activities. Try to avoid using friends or relatives. And be sure to send a thank you note if someone writes a letter of recommendation for you!

6. Proofread Your Entire Application

Always go through and manually proofread all of your essays and applications. The computer can miss a lot of typos and isn’t the best grammar checker.

After you proofread your essays, read the essays out loud. If something doesn’t sound right, try rewriting or rephrasing problem areas. Don’t lose a scholarship because of poor proofreading or because something is "good enough."

7. Apply to Many Scholarships

Scholarship hunting is a numbers game. The more scholarships you apply to, the more money you can earn for college.

Don’t avoid a scholarship because you think the requirements are too hard for you to complete, or you think there’s no way you’ll win. The more difficult a scholarship’s requirements are, the less competition you will have. And, don’t disregard a scholarships with a lower amount. Fewer students apply for these, which improves your chances to win them. Remember, every dollar adds up!

8. Remember: Quality Comes First

Applying to every scholarship you can find is a great strategy, but remember that you still need to showcase your best work. Be sure to make an impression and give the scholarship committees a clear perspective of who you are and what you seek to achieve.

If you turn in a bunch of essays that you know are mediocre, then you’re selling yourself short. Make sure that you’re proud of every application you turn in.

9. Don’t Forget to Take a Break

The scholarship search is a long process. It’s important to work hard, but don’t let yourself burn out. Make sure to have fun and spend time with friends and family. If you’ve been working on an essay for hours, take a quick break and recharge.

You never know when a new experience will inspire your next great essay!

10. Make Copies of Your Applications

Make copies (or save clearly-marked digital versions) of all of your applications -- including your essays -- before you submit them. That way you can refer to applications you’ve already completed when you find additional scholarships you want to pursue.

Keeping a well-documented record of your essays and applications could save you time for future applications.

11. Understand the Terms of Your Scholarships

If you've applied for a scholarship and they select you for the reward, make sure you know the terms before you accept it. Will it renew the next year? Are there requirements or obligations tied to the acceptance of this award? Will it negatively impact the rest of your college financial aid?

Be sure to read the terms very carefully and notify your college financial aid office. The amount could affect your financial aid offer letter.

12. Keep Up the Good Work

Once you've sent in your scholarship applications, you must continue to get good grades and participate in extracurricular activities. Staying engaged in school and other activities will keep you motivated to do well and maintain your academic reputation. You'll also be more open to seek other scholarships opportunities if you find them.

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