College is expensive, but before you take out any loans, find out if you qualify for awards and scholarships. You might find scholarships at the school, local, state, and/or national levels.
By following a few tips—such as looking for scholarships everywhere, understanding their criteria, and staying organized—you could be awarded thousands of dollars for school. Though there’s no guarantee you’ll be awarded any money, the effort may be worth it if you’re willing to put in the time.
1. Look for scholarships anywhere and everywhere.
You can’t apply for scholarships if you don’t know where to find them. Here’s a handy list of resources you can use:
A college’s financial aid office (offers scholarships just for that specific college)
Community and religious organizations, local businesses, and community foundations, which may increase your chances of obtaining scholarships because each has a smaller pool of applicants
Your employer or your parents’ employer(s)
The U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool
Your high school counselor’s office
Your state’s higher education agency
Organizations related to your interests (give it a quick Google search)
You might find scholarships at your school, local, state, and/or national government levels.
2. Learn who can apply.
Anyone who is going to be attending college next year can apply for scholarships. This includes current high school seniors and current college students. Different scholarships have different eligibility requirements, so check and make sure you meet all the requirements for a scholarship before you apply.
3. Know when to apply.
The best time to apply is right now. It is never too early to look and apply for scholarships. Even if the due date is still months away, it’s good to get a head start. Late winter and early spring tend to be primetime scholarship seasons for the next academic year and the time frame when most scholarships will be offered.
4. Be ready to get started.
It’s good to be prepared. There are several common requirements for scholarship applications, so get your application materials ready early. In addition to requiring an essay, some scholarships will also require the following things:
Information about your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) application (so complete the FAFSA® form as soon as it becomes available!)
At least one letter of recommendation from a teacher, counselor, or someone else familiar with your academic achievements
A professional picture of you—it doesn’t have to be an actual professional headshot, but it should be appropriate (senior pictures are good for this)
Your latest transcript
5. Put in the time on the essay.
A lot of scholarship essay assignments are similar and want you to answer questions like, “What is your biggest accomplishment in life?” You might be able to save time by reusing your responses.
Many scholarship applications will ask for rather dry and academic responses, but sometimes you can use your hobbies as material for your essays. That makes the writing easier. And fun essay prompts do exist (such as your best food experience or an impactful memory you’ve had while traveling).
Ask several people (preferably people who have recent experience with essay writing or reviewing) to look over your essay and give you feedback. And give yourself time to check your essay for typos before you send it in.
6. Organize your applications.
You’ll have the best chance at success if your applications are organized and turned in on time. Consider the following tips:
Sort your applications by due date and complete them in the order they’re due. Keep in mind that some require more work (letters of recommendation, a longer essay, etc.) and may take more time.
Make sure your essay follows the instructions and is within the word limit.
Try to submit your application at least a day ahead of the deadline. Right before the deadline, scholarship websites can experience a high influx of activity and get clogged up or even shut down.
Make sure you include all the required materials and submit everything properly.
With the right tools and preparation, you should have a great shot at a college scholarship. If you want to learn more, view our comprehensive, detailed guide to scholarships.