People often say the years they spent in college were the best of their lives. College is a milestone where students are able to explore new experiences, meet new people, and develop independence, all while gaining a quality education. Unfortunately, beginning your college journey comes at a high cost. With estimated student debt in the United States at $1.71 trillion, many college applicants are working hard to find another way to fund their education: scholarships. Obtaining scholarship funding helps students attend college with less stress by relaxing their financial burden. However, while scholarship opportunities abound, they can sometimes be hard to find. That is why A-List is here to help you with the search! We are committed to helping you achieve your college goals and have identified useful tips for finding and applying for scholarships.
1. START EARLY
Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” In other words, you should plan on applying for scholarships at the beginning of your senior year. The college scholarship cycle runs in three phases: fall semester, spring semester, and the summer before matriculation.
The fall semester is when scholarship availability kicks off for seniors, with deadlines usually in October and December. It is important to take full advantage of the fall scholarship phase by preparing your resume and transcripts as far out from the deadlines as possible. Students often find it helpful to start building a scholarship portfolio as early as the summer before their senior year.
The spring semester is also filled with ample scholarship opportunities. Deadlines are typically spread throughout the semester, spring break being a perfect opportunity to use free time to polish a resume and submit applications.
Lastly, the summer months after graduation provide a few more last-minute scholarship opportunities. While there aren’t quite as many scholarship options available in the summer, there is also a reduction in the amount of students searching, which can allow a competitive advantage.
2. VISIT YOUR SCHOOL COUNSELOR’S OFFICE
School counselors and academic advisors are great resources for scholarship opportunities. They often have information that is not readily available otherwise. Additionally, they can give you tailored advice based on your academic profile, extracurricular activities, athletic ability, and cultural background. Counselors are great for helping identify specific opportunities, including scholarships for women, minorities, athletes, and other groups.
3. CHECK COLLEGE WEBSITES
Visiting college websites is a great method for seeking out scholarship information. Schools usually have portions of their website devoted solely to scholarship opportunities, search tips, and external application links. Specific departments may also have opportunities listed based on your choice of major or minor. For example, a student might find that he or she qualifies for an academic merit scholarship given by the university, a scholarship for those enrolled within the Honors College, and a scholarship for engineering students. Once you are accepted to a college, you should check with the financial aid office if you have additional questions about the scholarship opportunities available.
4. FIND OPPORTUNITIES ONLINE AND IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Scholarships exist for everything from academic achievement to writing left-handed. The tricky part is knowing where to find the opportunities. To start, there is an abundance of free websites that catalog available college scholarships to browse, including Scholarships.com, Fastweb Scholarships, Niche Scholarships and CollegeBoard. Scholly is also a great option, but does cost between $3.75 and $7.99 per month. These and other similar websites allow for a simple, tailored approach to searching for scholarships.
In addition, local organizations within your community may have scholarships for college-bound juniors and seniors. Foundations, community groups, religious organizations, and businesses are all viable options for your scholarship search. Many companies also offer scholarships specifically for the children of employees. Keep an eye out for postings by community service groups and ask family and friends if their businesses or organizations have opportunities available.
5. APPLY TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING
Some students acquire as much as several hundred thousand dollars in college scholarships before they finish their senior year of high school. It is a good idea to apply for as many as possible, as there is no limit to the amount of scholarship money you can earn. Once you get started on your applications, you will find that many of the requirements are redundant and you can re-use material such as your resume or personal statement.
The amount of scholarship money you earn often directly correlates with the amount of scholarships to which you apply. So, even if a scholarship seems like a reach, it is usually worth the effort. You never know what might happen!
6. KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR SCAMMERS
Unfortunately, not every scholarship application is what it appears. There are thousands of students and parents that fall victim to scams every year. Many of these offers have “unclaimed money” and require “fees” to match you with scholarships. However, those offers are rip-offs and never fulfill their “money-back guarantee.” The Federal Trade Commission has more information on how to avoid these scams detailed here.
7. STAY ORGANIZED
One of the most important parts of the application process is staying organized. This includes monitoring deadlines and keeping updated files. Missing out on potential financial support because of a missed deadline can be very frustrating. Most scholarships do not have any flexibility in deadlines due to the amount of applications received. Using a planner or setting phone reminders is a good way to stay on top of application due dates.
It is also helpful to organize relevant files so they are readily available for applications. This includes transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, personal statements, and even tax returns. Having critical information easily accessible will help save time and reduce stress.
8. STAY MOTIVATED!
Overall, the most important part of your scholarship search is a positive attitude. Although you will most likely receive a few scholarship rejections, don’t let that sideline your motivation. Persistence is key in receiving as much scholarship aid as possible.
SCHOLARSHIPS FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS
A quick note: Graduate school scholarships can often be more difficult to find than undergraduate scholarships. However, there are still countless opportunities out there. Just follow the same steps outlined above, and you should be able to identify several scholarship options for your post-undergraduate education.
If you would like assistance in planning your college journey, A-List is here to help. Speak to one of our College Advising experts today!