How to Apply for a Scholarship

In the last ten years alone, the cost of receiving a college education has increased by an average of 25%. However, many college students have not seen a comparable rise in accessible funds through work or family assistance.

How can students continue to afford the rising cost of education? While taking out both private and government loans is an option, we’ve seen many graduates struggling with debt for years–or decades–to come.

So, what option does that leave students with? If you’re getting ready to attend a university, one thing you can do is learn how to apply for a scholarship.

It’s not always easy to know where to look or how to approach scholarship applications in a productive and successful way. We’re here to help. Read on for our guide on how to apply for a scholarship and make your college education more accessible.

Finding Scholarships to Apply For

First, let’s take a look at the process of finding scholarships. Whether you’re looking for full or partial coverage, it’s useful to take advantage of the many resources on the web and elsewhere. You’d be surprised at just how many scholarship opportunities exist nowadays!

Scholarship Websites and Apps. As the need for scholarships increases, digital creators are rising to meet those needs. You can find a number of websites and apps devoted entirely to listing scholarships in one easy-access place.

When using these websites and apps, it’s ideal to either find the ones that cater to your specific needs. If you’re using a catch-all site, filter your search based on your specific needs.

Using Your Search Engine to Find Scholarships. Another way that you can search for scholarships is to simply look for them using search engines like Google. When you use a search engine to find scholarships, try different keywords to narrow down your search.

For example, you might search for scholarships for students in your area. Alternatively, look for scholarships that only people in your demographic group qualify for.

Looking for Local and State-Based Scholarships

You’d be surprised at how many scholarships are location-specific. Both government and private scholarships may exist only for students who live in your hometown or home state.

You can even keep an eye on local publications and bulletin boards to track down community-based scholarships. These will have a smaller pool of applicants, improving your odds.

School-Based Scholarships

Almost all universities, both public and private, will offer scholarships to their own students. While these school-based scholarships may not provide all of the financial aid you need, it’s always worth looking into.

Some school-based scholarships are program-specific. Make sure that you look into scholarships offered by your department.

Understanding the Different Types of Scholarships: When you’re new to the process of finding and applying for scholarships, you may not realize just how much the types of scholarships differ. Understanding your options will help you narrow down a great list of scholarships that will work best for you. Let’s take a look at some of the key differences you’ll encounter during your search.

Private vs School-Based vs Government Scholarships: The provider of the scholarship can make a difference.

Applying for financial aid from the government is extremely common. Over 60% of college students completing the FAFSA application each year. When applying for financial aid from the government, keep in mind that the federal government offers loans in addition to grants and scholarships.

School-based scholarships are often the most straightforward. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the school to seek guidance as you navigate these financial aid opportunities.

Private scholarships refer to any scholarships offered by private corporations or organizations. This includes non-profits.

There are some hefty scholarships out there in the name of some of the top companies in the nation (ie Coca Cola). However, you don’t want to underestimate the smaller opportunities offered by smaller organizations. Read about Go Clean to find out more about one of the hundreds of scholarship opportunities offered by private organizations.

Need-Based vs Merit-Based Scholarships

Most scholarships fall into one of two categories: need-based versus merit-based.

Need-based scholarships are available to students who have specific financial needs. For example, you may qualify for many need-based scholarships if your parents or caregivers make less than $50,000 per year. Ultimately, the goal of a need-based scholarship is to make higher education accessible regardless of your financial background.

Merit-based scholarships are available to students who have demonstrated a specific achievement. Roughly 15% of college students are awarded merit-based scholarships each year. Merit-based scholarships may be awarded for academic achievements (ie maintaining a high GPA) or extracurricular achievements (ie performing on an athletic team in both high school and college).

Ensuring That You’re Eligible Before Applying

In the previous sections, you may have deduced that you won’t qualify for every scholarship you encounter. Scholarship applications are time-consuming and may come with fees and additional costs, which means that you don’t want to apply for any that you’re not eligible for. Before beginning a scholarship application, double-check that you’re eligible based on:

  • demographic requirements
  • academic requirements (particularly for merit-based scholarships)
  • financial requirements (particularly for need-based scholarships)
  • location requirements
  • additional requirements pertaining to things like extracurriculars, achievements, and so forth

Familiarize yourself with the kinds of eligibility requirements you meet in order to apply strategically.

Understanding the Different Components of a Scholarship Application

What should you expect when you’re applying for scholarships? Not unlike your college applications, many scholarship applications are multifaceted. Let’s take a look at some of the most common components of scholarship applications that you should anticipate.

The Application Form: The application form is usually the simplest and quickest part to complete. Here is where you’ll supply basic and objective information, ranging from your birth date and legal name to your gender and race. Always double-check your application forms for typos or inaccuracies before submitting them.

The Essay: The essay is your opportunity to shine. Make sure that you carefully read the essay prompt for each scholarship you’re applying for, as they tend to differ depending on the nature of the scholarship.

While some scholarship applications do involve an interview of the candidates, many don’t. Instead, it is the essay portion that allows you to share your personality and experiences with the scholarship review board.

Essay topics can be as broad and generic as, “Tell us about yourself,” and as specific as, “Why do you want to study X?” We’ll talk more about this later, but it’s important that you give yourself plenty of time to reflect on each prompt and answer each question to the best of your abilities.

Letters of Recommendation: It is likely that you will need to provide letters of recommendation from a personal, academic, or professional reference. Make sure to pay close attention to the instructions, as some scholarships will allow one and not the others. Common references to consider are current or former teachers, guidance counselors, club leaders, employers, and/or religious leaders.

Verified Diploma and Transcript Copies: It is likely that you will need to provide verified copies of your high school diploma and/or recent transcripts. “Verified” means that these copies must come from your school and a scanned copy of your personal documents won’t count. You can usually request these documents from your school registrar’s office for free, although you may encounter small fees.

Additional Documents: There are a few other documents that you may have to include in your scholarship applications. For example, some will ask for SAT or ACT scores, resumes or CVs, and financial aid information. Merit-based scholarship applications for students of art, theater, or music may also require portfolios or videos of performances.

How to Apply for a Scholarship: Breaking Down the Steps

Ready to start coming up with a concrete plan? We’re here to help with that, too! Completing multiple scholarship applications takes time and it’s important that you stay organized and stick to a schedule to avoid confusion and burnout.

Step 1: Come Up With a List and a Schedule. First, compile a list of all scholarships you intend to apply for. You’re going to want to grab a calendar for this one so that you can write down the deadline for each scholarship. It is also helpful to write down the requirements for each scholarship so that you know which ones will take the longest.

Then, it’s time to come up with a schedule.

As you can tell, most scholarships do require quite a bit of information. We recommend breaking down each scholarship application into steps and dedicating a specific amount of time to each step. This will keep you from getting behind while also ensuring that you don’t become overwhelmed or burned out during the application process.

Step 2: Contact References. Remember that there is etiquette to asking for letters of recommendation. You should give each reference a minimum of four weeks to write and send their letters. If your scholarship application deadlines are in the fall or winter, you may want to provide even more notice, as this is the time of year when teachers and leaders are getting bombarded with requests.

Step 3: Start Tackling Those Essays. Now, it’s time to start working on your essays. Start by reading the instructions for each essay carefully. We encourage you to jot down any thoughts or ideas that come to mind as you do this. Give yourself time to brainstorm and reflect on some of the defining moments and characteristics that make you unique.

Put together an outline for each of your essays. This will ensure that each essay is structured in a logical and readable way. It can also reveal where some of your essays overlap and where you can reuse certain paragraphs or ideas in multiple essays.

Step 4: Edit, Edit, Edit. It’s tempting to send an essay the second you type that final period, but resist the urge! Once you’ve completed an essay, put it down for the day. Come back to it the next day with fresh eyes and read it out loud to yourself, listening for awkward phrasing or clarity issues.

It’s not always easy to catch your own typos or grammatical issues. Ask a family member or friend if they can look over your essays, too.

Each essay should undergo at least one round of edits. Remember, you’re not trying to write the next great American novel, but you do want to make sure that your essays read well and convey the message you intended to convey.

One of the most important scholarship application tips pertains to essay writing. The first draft allows you to get your ideas out of your brain and onto the page. Each follow-up draft allows you to make sure that those ideas are translating well to the page.

Step 5: Submit Your Scholarship Application Materials. As you make your way through your application schedule, make sure to check off application requirements as you complete them. Once you’ve got each document and all of your materials squared away, it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for! It’s time to submit your scholarship applications!

Make Your Education More Accessible With Scholarship Opportunities

No one should be barred from pursuing higher education because of their financial situation. Learning how to apply for a scholarship (or several) is a great way to open doors and make academia more accessible. We hope that our scholarship application guide has given you a jump-start on your scholarship application process.

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