How to Get Scholarships for College
Getting scholarships for college is a two-step process. First, you have to find the scholarships. Then you apply for them and hopefully win.
How to Find Scholarships
To find scholarships, start with a free scholarship matching service like the one provided by Cappex. This will provide you with a list of scholarships for which you are eligible. You also will learn about new scholarships that match your background as they are added to the scholarship database.
When using an online scholarship search site, answer the optional questions in addition to the required questions. Students who answer the optional questions tend to match twice as many scholarships, on average, as students who answer just the required questions. The optional questions trigger the inclusion of specific scholarships.
Also use less-targeted methods of finding scholarships, such as books and bulletin boards. You can find scholarship listing books in your local bookstore and public library. But, be sure to check the copyright date before relying on a book. A scholarship listing book that is more than a year or two old is too old to be useful, as important details like deadlines and eligibility criteria change every year.
Small, local scholarships can be found on bulletin boards outside your school counselor office and the financial aid office of a local college. This is where you’ll find PTA scholarships and other scholarships that aren’t listed in any of the national scholarship databases. You also can find bulletin boards near the jobs and careers section of your local public library.
Ask around for other sources of scholarships. Ask your parents’ employers, unions, fraternal organizations and clubs. Look for scholarships sponsored by community foundations and local businesses. Check with religious organizations and civic groups. If you know which majors interest you, research whether the professional associations in your field of interest offer any scholarships.
The Sunday newspaper can be a good source of information about scholarships. Many national scholarships advertise in the coupon section.
How to Apply for Scholarships
Apply to every scholarship for which you are eligible. Winning a scholarship is as much a matter of luck as it is a matter of skill. Only about one in eight college students has won a private scholarship, so the more applications you submit, the greater your chances of winning a scholarship. The students who win a gazillion dollars in scholarships apply to dozens and dozens of scholarships. It’s not just one and done.
But, apply only for the scholarships for which you are eligible. Most scholarship providers receive more applications from qualified applicants than they have funds available. You might be an amazing person, but if you are not eligible for the scholarship, the scholarship provider will not give you any money.
If you don’t have the time to apply for every scholarship, select the scholarships where you have the greatest odds of winning. Cappex highlights the scholarships that are less competitive. But, really, you should apply to every scholarship for which you’re eligible.
Each scholarship has its own requirements and selection criteria. You can find a lot of information and the scholarship application on the scholarship provider’s web site.
Read the application carefully and follow the directions. If a scholarship application requires a 300-word essay, don’t submit a 301-word essay. Don’t miss the deadlines.
Tailor the essays to the scholarship provider’s goals. Each scholarship provider is looking for the students who best match their selection criteria. Your essays and application should aim to position you as the best candidate for their award. Show, don’t tell, by providing specific examples.
After your first half-dozen scholarship applications, you’ll find that you can reuse essays. But, be careful when reusing an essay. Nothing is more embarrassing than mentioning the wrong scholarship or wrong organization in your essay.
Be sure to Google yourself. More than a quarter of scholarship providers are googling their finalists and asking their finalists to friend them on Facebook. You should clean up your online presence. Otherwise, if a red flag shows up online, you could lose the scholarship.
Beware of Scholarship Pitfalls
Watch out for scholarship scams. If you have to pay money to get money, it’s probably a scam. Scholarships are about giving money, not getting money. So if a scholarship asks for an application fee or the taxes, trash it. Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about scholarships or to apply for scholarships.
Also, watch out for requests for unusual information, such as Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and your date of birth. That’s all a scholarship scam needs to empty your bank account or steal your identity.
Know your college’s scholarship displacement policy, sometimes called an outside scholarship policy. After you win a private scholarship, you’ll have to tell the college financial aid office. Winning a scholarship reduces your financial need, so the financial aid office may have to reduce your need-based financial aid package. Some colleges allow private scholarships to reduce unmet need. Others reduce loans and student employment before grants. But, about a fifth reduce grants first, yielding no reduction in the net price.
If you use a scholarship to pay for room and board or other living expenses, it may be taxable. If you’ve already covered the tuition and textbooks, ask the scholarship provider if you can defer the scholarship to a later year.