How to win a scholarship
10 tips to strengthen your applications and get as much funding as possible.
10 strategies to win a scholarship
1. Build relationships with your teachers
Many scholarships require a letter of reference or recommendation from your teacher. Staying on top of your assignments, actively participating in class and talking to your teachers one on one can help you build a relationship that gets you a glowing, personalized recommendation.
2. Stay on top of your grades
Scholarships are generally based on merit, meaning your grades are a huge factor in whether or not you get accepted. Many have a minimum GPA of around 3.0 or higher, but you likely won’t qualify if you just meet the cutoff. If you’re struggling with a class, consider going to tutoring or asking your teacher for help. And complete as many extra credit assignments as possible for bonus points.
3. Volunteer in your community
Many scholarship programs list community involvement as a requirement — or at least list it as a quality of an ideal candidate. Find work that lines up with your interests. For example, if you’re an athlete, consider coaching or giving free lessons to kids at a community center. If you’re into fashion, consider working at a local charity thrift store.
And start early — the longer the commitment, the more serious you’ll appear to the scholarship committee.
4. Apply to as many as you can
At the end of the day, the selection process for scholarships is highly subjective. Even the most qualified applicants get rejected from scholarship programs sometimes. Instead of focusing on a few large scholarships, applying to as many as you’re qualified for can increase your odds of getting funds.
5. Consider scholarships of all sizes
Large scholarships might make the biggest dent in your cost of attendance. But they’re also often the most competitive. Don’t write off those smaller $1,000 awards. Not as many people are applying for them, and they can add up.
6. Look locally
Local scholarship funds typically have a smaller pool of applicants and can be a great way to increase your chances of winning an award. Ask your high school guidance counselor or college adviser about which local programs you might qualify for. If you’re already in college, set up an appointment with the financial aid office to learn about other opportunities available to you.
7. Answer all questions — even the optional ones
It might be tempting to skip over the questions you don’t have to answer on an application — especially if you’re applying to multiple scholarship programs. But answering all questions can make your application stand out from the others and shows your commitment to thoroughness.
8. Write your unique truth
Scholarship committees can smell a half-baked essay from a mile away. Stay away from formulaic answers and write about what you’re really passionate about. Even if it’s a passion that a lot of people share, think about what it is specifically that draws you. For example, if you’re thinking of becoming a doctor because you want to help people, what was it that made you realize this was your calling? If it’s an essay about your career plans, be practical and specific.
9. Clean up your online presence
Scholarship programs sometimes research applicants as part of the evaluation process. Go through your social media accounts and remove any posts that are less than professional. Having unflattering photos or captions can lose you those funds.
10. Get your application in as early as possible
Many scholarship programs have limited resources and offer funding on a first-come, first-served basis. Try to get your application in before the deadline if possible to make sure you aren’t missing out due to timing.
How can I find a scholarship?
You have a wide range of resources to turn to, from your guidance counselor and prospective schools to online databases. Try using all of them to make sure you’re not missing out on any opportunities.
Still short on funds? Compare private student loan offers
Diversifying your applications, getting involved in your community and being active in class can help you set yourself apart from other scholarship applicants. And if you don’t get all the funding you need, check out our guide to student loans to learn more about how to pay for school.
Frequently asked questions
Where can I get a full-ride scholarship?
Many foundations and universities offer full-ride scholarships to students — and some schools even offer a full ride to all admitted students.
When should I apply for scholarships?
Submit your scholarship application before the deadline, if possible. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily write off scholarship programs if you find out about them too late to get your applications in ahead of time — some require you to submit your application as early as a year before you graduate. But you might also want to look into other programs with a later deadline as well.
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