It’s no secret that scholarships are one of the absolute best ways to pay for college, but how in the world do you get started? With nearly every scholarship application requiring an essay, letters of recommendation, and a plethora of personal information, starting the process and figuring out how to get scholarships for college can be overwhelming.
At the same time, with the cost of school on the rise each year, scholarships are becoming more and more important. Unlike student loans, scholarships don’t need to be paid back and they offer free no-strings-attached money. Winning scholarships can significantly reduce (or even help you completely avoid) the burden of student debt and increasing interest rates after graduation.
Despite how fantastic they are, students are often puzzled about how to get scholarships. Where should you begin? When should you begin? Which scholarships are worth your time? How many should you apply for?
The questions can start to become overwhelming and even scare some students away. Luckily, applying for scholarships really isn’t all that complicated when it comes down to it! With a little dedication and perseverance, you can be well on your way to winning scholarships of your own.
Check out our 12 best tips on how to get scholarships and make your applications shine!
1. Go Local
While national scholarships generally get more visibility and press online, local scholarships usually offer better chances. You’ll only be competing against other students in your area rather than thousands of students all over the nation. Not only that, but you’ll be supporting local initiatives in your community that represent awesome causes.
Your high school guidance counselor or college admissions office should have plenty of information on local scholarships that apply to your situation. If not, try searching for “scholarships + your state/city” on Google or using a scholarship search engine, where you’ll likely be able to find lists of scholarships. Did we mention that we have tons of state-specific scholarship articles on our blog?
Going Merry also makes finding local scholarships a piece of cake (really, what don’t we do?). Simply head to your profile and click on “scholarships” then “local scholarships” to see what’s going on in your area.
2. Find Your Edge
Scholarship providers spend countless hours reviewing scholarship applications and essays that are responding to the same prompt. Unsurprisingly, a hefty majority of applications are forgotten. The memorable have the best chance of winning. Just like in marketing, search for what gives you an advantage over your competition and use it.
Start by creating a list of your strengths. What are you good at? What are your friends always asking you to help them with? Then, figure out how to highlight your strengths throughout your application, specifically in the short answer and essay questions. Show the scholarship committee why your skills make you the perfect candidate for the award.
Your life experiences can also make your applications stand out. You’ve likely experienced events or challenges that are different from others: brainstorm a list and use it to your advantage.
3. Make Your Essay Shine
Another way to make your application shine is to approach the essay from a unique angle. As long as you’re thoroughly answering the prompt and using your best writing skills, there are no rules saying that you can’t put your own unique spin on the essay (unless your application does, in fact, have specific instructions not to do this!).
But what exactly does it mean to put your own unique spin on an essay? Basically, take your own life experiences and incorporate them into your writing. For example, let’s imagine that the essay question is “why do you want to study medicine?”. It’s safe to say that a good majority of the applicants will respond with something along the lines of “I want to help people.” While it’s a perfectly acceptable reason, it doesn’t make for a very interesting essay.
Instead, try approaching the essay differently by telling a story about a doctor you once had, the first time you felt inspired to study medicine, or a dream you have that medicine can help you achieve. It’s okay, and even recommended, to take some time and reflect before writing the essay. The deeper you can dive into your personal dreams and goals, the better.
If you’d like more tips on how to write an amazing essay, check out our step-by-step guide on applying for scholarships.
4. Seek Out Similar Applications
Let’s be real, scholarship applications can be lengthy and time-consuming. Between classes, homework, studying, and work, who has time to write several essays a week? Luckily, if you’re smart about your approach, that won’t be necessary at all.
Lots of scholarship applications are actually quite similar and, while it may feel like cheating, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the same responses on various applications (as long as they’re relevant, of course). If it fits, you could even reuse the same essay or slightly change one that you’ve already written to fit different applications.
Applying for scholarships seems a whole lot less overwhelming when you already have half the work done! Plus, you’ll increase your chances of winning scholarships with less overall work.
If you’re not sure where to look for scholarships with essay topics similar to what you’ve already done, feel free to shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Give us a list of topics you’ve written essays on before and we’ll do our best to find scholarships with similar or matching ones for you! You can also comment down below and you’ll be able to get feedback from us and fellow students.
5. Use Another Set of Eyes
Having another person, whether it’s a family member or a friend, look over your application can save you the embarrassment of unnecessary typos and also provide you with a second opinion. Often times, others can notice things about our writing that we have trouble seeing, like being too repetitive, writing too much unnecessary information, or being too boring.
Family and friends can provide helpful insight on how to get scholarships that you may have not thought about yourself.
6. The More the Merrier!
When it comes to scholarships, more is always better! There’s no limit on how many you can apply for and applying for more only raises your chances. Try setting time aside each week dedicated only to searching for and applying for scholarships. You could even try setting a monthly goal for how many scholarships you’d like to apply for (but keep it realistic).
If you only have a few minutes on hand, it’s even worth boosting your chances of winning scholarships by applying for some scholarship sweepstakes or scholarships without essays. Check out our extensive list of easy scholarships for an idea of where to get started.
7. Get a Head Start
Waiting until the last minute hardly works out in any situation, and scholarships are no exception. The best way to take advantage of as many scholarships as possible and avoid the last-minute stress is to start early!
High school students can start applying for scholarships as early as their junior year (Going Merry has a wide selection of scholarships for juniors to help you out!). High school seniors and college students can start applying as early as one year or more before the semester they hope to win scholarships for.
Scholarships are available all year with a number of different deadlines, but many deadlines fall around March.
8. Take Advantage of Going Merry
Not only does Going Merry allow you to apply for scholarships online for free, but it also helps make the scholarship application process easier by automatically matching you with scholarships that you qualify for and allowing you to directly apply to each one (just like the Common App does for college applications!). Not only does it require less effort on your part, but it can introduce you to hundreds of scholarships that you never even knew existed!
Plus, did we mention that it’s completely free for students? If you’re wondering how to get scholarships, Going Merry is a fantastic starting point.
9. Check Yourself Out Online
In this day and age, social media says a lot about who we are. Some scholarship providers might do a quick Google search of your name or head to your social media profiles to see if you’re online presence aligns with what they’re looking for. Doing a quick search of your own name to see what pops up can help you avoid any surprises.
Your social media profiles don’t necessarily need to be professional (except LinkedIn), but be careful about posts that could be viewed as negative by scholarship committees.
10. Do Your Research
On the flip side of things, doing a little research on the scholarship provider doesn’t hurt either. Not only is it a great way to make sure that the scholarship is legitimate, but it can give you an advantage on your application. Take some time to find out the type of person they’re looking for and play on your strengths to show them that you’re the perfect candidate.
It’s also worth checking to see if the profiles of past winners are available on the scholarship provider’s website. Doing your research on the type of students who won this scholarship in the past can give you an advantage during the application process. Some providers also allow you to see the winning essays, which can give you an idea of exactly what they’re looking for!
11. Plan Letters of Recommendation in Advance
When students are trying to figure out how to get scholarships, asking for letters of recommendation is often the most stressful part and requires the most advanced planning. Waiting until the last minute to ask your teachers, professors, counselors, etc. for a letter of recommendation is only going to stress them out. Make sure to notify them at least four weeks before the scholarship deadline.
Going Merry makes the process of getting Letters of Recommendation easier by allowing your recommender to upload their letter on the site so that you can reuse it for various applications. This means that you can ask for recommendations at the beginning of the school year and use them for your scholarship applications all year round!
Besides asking in advance, selecting the right person to recommend you is crucial. If you’re trying to get a scholarship for foreign language study, a recommendation from a French teacher will be much more relevant than one from a physics teacher, for example. It’s also helpful to ask for a recommendation from someone who has witnessed your academic ability and/or personal character.
12. Keep Your Eye on the Prize!
Whatever you do, don’t lose hope during the application process! Figuring out how to get scholarships can seem overwhelming and time-consuming, but it’s 100% worth it in the end. Don’t be discouraged if you find that you’re not winning as many scholarships as you had hoped.
In the end, your patience and time can help you pay for college while avoiding dreaded student loans at the same time, leaving you in a significantly better financial situation after graduation.
What are your best tips on how to get scholarships? Share them with us below!