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How to Apply for Scholarships

Unlike most financial aid, scholarships allow you to earn money for college without the worry of needing to pay it back. In order to win a game-changing scholarship, you’ll need to start by finding scholarships that fit your needs. By crafting interesting essays, finding the right recommenders, and preparing your materials in a careful and timely manner, you can apply for and potentially win a scholarship!

EditSteps

EditFinding Scholarships that Fit Your Needs

  1. Search online for scholarships based on your background. Scholarships are often offered to specific groups of people, and your background can open up scholarship opportunities. Search for specific categories using keywords that describe your background, family situation, or ethnic group (for example, “low-income,” “student-athlete” “Asian-American,” or “military”).[1]
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  2. Search for scholarships based on academic merit. Academic merit is determined by your grade point average, but it may also be affected by SAT or ACT scores. If you’ve been doing well in your academics, colleges might just pay for you to come study there. If you know what colleges you plan to apply to or are already enrolled in college, look for merit scholarships offered by these specific schools. You can find this info on their website or through the financial aid office.
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    • Institutional academic scholarships are often divided into multiple levels, giving out different amounts for higher and lower GPAs.
    • The GPA requirements for private academic scholarships vary depending on the organization.
  3. Search online for service-based scholarships. Some colleges and private organizations offer service-based scholarships, which you can qualify for as an active, service-oriented community member. If you have been particularly engaged in serving one specific cause, see if there are scholarships which specifically offer money to students who have served that cause.
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    • For example, AXA Achievement Scholarships are $10,000 awards given to students who lead projects that benefit others.[2]
  4. Talk to your school’s guidance or college counselor about local scholarships. Many high schools assemble a list of local scholarship opportunities for their graduating seniors to apply for. Ask your counselor about community organizations, churches, and businesses who offer college scholarships.
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    • Sit down and talk to your counselor about your interests and activities in high school. They might have specific tips based on your background.

EditPreparing the Basics of the Application

  1. Review the requirements and deadlines of each scholarship carefully. If you’re applying to multiple scholarships, you can easily get confused about which are due at what times. Set calendar notifications for 10 and then 5 days before each deadline to stay on track.[3]
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    • Most scholarships are competitive and will not make exceptions for late applications.
    • Applying to many scholarships is a good idea, as it will increase your chances of getting one.
  2. Gather the preliminary materials. For many scholarships you will need to provide high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and your parents’ financial information, for starters.[4]
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    • Ask your school counselor for help accessing your high school transcripts.
    • Schedule a time with your parents to sit down and look over financial information forms.
  3. Create a resume if the scholarship application requires one. Some scholarship applications will ask for a resume, in which case you will need to craft a resume which details your extracurriculars, leadership, work experience, and outside activities. Resumes should show what you care about, your work ethic, and the ways you’ve spent your time in high school.[5]
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    • If you don’t have a lot of outside activities because you had to work to support yourself, don’t worry, just include all of your work experience on the resume. Scholarships will want to see evidence of your work ethic and this is a great example of that.

EditWriting Scholarship Essays

  1. Determine the mission of the organization awarding the scholarship. Do some research on the organization offering the scholarship and write down what they care about in one sentence. This will help you to better understand your audience and consider ways to tailor your application to their mission.[6]
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    • For example, let’s say the organization wants to invest in leaders who will promote sustainability. In your essay, you should focus on ways you have promoted sustainability in your community or personal life, and include stories that demonstrate your capacities as a leader (in big or small settings).
    • Keeping your audience in mind doesn’t mean you should lie about your interests to match what you think they want to hear. Just be aware of what they care about, and focus on aspects of your character that match this.
  2. Write in your own voice and use specific anecdotes. The last thing a scholarship committee wants to read is an essay lacking real personal information or flavor. Write in a voice that is true to who you are. Tell stories to illustrate your points. Reflect on yourself, your life, and who you want to be in the future.[7]
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    • Avoid vague phrases like “I’m a hard-worker” and instead tell a detailed story that shows the reader you have a strong work ethic.
    • Many scholarships want to invest in the impact you want to make on the world; think about stories which communicate your desire to make an impact.
    • Avoid speaking in generalizations about the world. If you are specifically asked to reflect on a problem that is facing society, aim for specificity. Use anecdotes from the news or your local community and then reflect on how that connects to a broader issue.
  3. Follow prescribed word limits and proofread for grammatical errors. Don’t be disqualified for silly reasons like word limits and spell check. These scholarships have many applicants and will first check if candidates followed simple guidelines and formatting standards.[8]
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    • Try reading your essay aloud to catch errors that your eye might glaze over while reading.
  4. Ask a friend, parent, or mentor to edit the essay. As long as the scholarship doesn’t prohibit outside people reading your essays, it is usually ok to get another pair of eyes on your essay. A friend or parent can help you catch errors and give you suggestions for parts that sound awkward or need rephrasing.[9]
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    • Ultimately, you have to trust your gut and cannot let your parents write your essay. The application is about you, but taking thoughtful critiques will improve your eye for the piece.

EditGetting Letters of Recommendation

  1. Choose a teacher, coach, or employer who knows you well. Think about adults you respect and interact with regularly, considering who might be passionate about writing your letter of recommendation. Academic references should come from teachers and school administrators, while character references can come from employers, pastors, or unrelated adults who you interact with regularly.[10]
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    • It is especially good to find someone who has seen you in multiple contexts (someone who is your teacher and the coach of your debate team, for example).
    • Avoid relatives and friends. Sponsors naturally assume that these sources are biased toward you and may not take them seriously as a result.
  2. Ask your recommender if they will write you a letter of recommendation. It is ideal if you can schedule a time to meet with your chosen recommender in person. Explain the scholarship you’re applying for, why you think they would be good to write the letter, and when the deadline for the letter is. If they agree to write the letter, tell them you will send them the materials they need for the letter in a follow up email.
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    • Be respectful and thank them, and don’t be offended if they say no.
  3. Provide them with the materials to help them write the letter. Give your chosen recommender a folder (or send them an email) with the scholarship and deadline information, your resume, and any exemplary work you have completed in their class. Communicate if there are aspects of your resume you wish for them to focus on based on the mission of the scholarship. [11]
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    • In your materials, remind them of work you’re proud of or specific challenges you’ve overcome.
    • Give them a sense of your future plans and why this scholarship is meaningful to you.
  4. Follow up about deadlines with your recommender. Send an email a few days before the letter is due to respectfully remind them about the deadline and see if they have sent the letter in. If they still haven’t gotten back to you in a few days, try dropping by their office and asking them about it.[12]
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    • Avoid sending multiple emails if you can, as it might bother them.
  5. Write your recommender a hand-written thank you note. Handwritten notes go a long way for showing gratitude and make recommenders more willing to help you out again in the future. If you do get a scholarship they recommended you for, make sure to share the good news![13]
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EditSubmitting your Application

  1. Double-check the required materials and proofread the entire application. Go through the list of things you need for the application and check them off one by one. Once that is finished, read back over your essays and forms carefully, out loud if possible.[14]
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    • Typos or grammatical errors can make an application look careless, and you don’t want to ruin all of your hard work by not proofreading.
    • If you’re reusing a cover letter or any other material from another application, double-check that you put the name of the right organization.
  2. Send in your application as soon as it’s ready. Some scholarships will want you to print and mail your materials all together, while others are fine with you sending materials in by email. If submitting your application through an online form, reread it after copying and pasting it to make sure the formatting didn’t change.[15]
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    • Sign and date your application once it is finished.
    • At this point, you can also send your recommenders an email letting them know you have turned in the application and will keep them updated.
  3. Apply to many scholarships to have the best chance at winning one. Some scholarships offer a lot of money and are more competitive, while others are smaller dollar amounts but give you a higher chance of winning them. Prioritize your applications based on how good of a fit you are for the scholarship, the amount of money they are offering, and whether the deadline is feasible. Apply to many.[16]
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    • The more scholarships you win, the less student loans you will have to take out, and the more affordable your college education will be.
    • However, if you don’t win any scholarships, don’t fret. There are other ways to finance your education, typically through grants and loans.


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