How to Apply for College Scholarships and Earn Free Money


Scholarships are a great source of free funding for college to help pay for tuition, room and board, and other enrollment fees. There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations, and you can find details for each online relatively easily and you should start applying for them as soon as you’re done with college applications. Scholarships are awarded to applicants for any number of reasons including being a top athlete, a good student, volunteering in your community, or being a member of a particular minority group. While there are 1000s of scholarships available to students headed to college, the requirements for each can be few or relatively strict. For this reason, it’s important to have a strategy in place before you start applying.

Why it’s important to have a strategy when applying for scholarships

Think of applying for scholarships in the same way you thought about your college search and application process. Let’s say you made a list of schools you wanted to apply to and set deadlines for each application. You should take that same approach with your scholarship applications. Using this method to keep track of the scholarships you’re applying for will also help keep you organized as you start to find more and more scholarship opportunities that match your profile (first generation, athlete, valedictorian).

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Get paperwork and notes together

Make a folder online (or keep a physical version) that has all the important documents you’ll need to satisfy the application requirements for many scholarships. An official transcript, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and your parent’s financial information are among the items you should have on hand to streamline your scholarship application process.

Make a list of scholarships

To help keep your search organized, it’s essential that you maintain a list of the scholarships you find for which you meet the criteria and want to apply for. Your list should include specific details and requirements for each scholarship including:

  • Name of organization providing scholarship

  • Scholarship deadline

  • Scholarship amount

  • Requirements (essay, letter of recommendation, financial aid form, transcript)

Why you should apply for as many scholarships as possible, set goals and deadlines

Based on the laws of probability, the more scholarships you apply for, the better your chance of winning one. Setting weekly or monthly goals for submitting scholarships applications will help you stay on track for applying to as many as possible. Review the list of requirements and deadlines of each scholarship on your list. Prioritize your list of applications based on fit, amount of money offered, and the length of time it will take you to apply. Set internal deadlines for each of the scholarships for yourself based on when you’d like to be done with each. The deadlines you set for yourself should be at least a week or two before they’re actually due to give you plenty of time should you run into difficulties or get sidetracked. It’s also important to set goals for the number of scholarships you’d like to apply for each week or month.

Don’t ignore the application requirements

First up, do not exceed the required word limit for your scholarship essays. The requirements state you must mail in the scholarship application with 11 copies, don’t just send it to the organization’s contact email and call it good. As scholarship committees get thousands of applications each year, the first ones that get tossed are those that don’t adhere to the basic requirements of the application. So, if you don’t want your application to end up in the rejected pile, the most important thing you can do is to pay close attention to and follow the scholarship application requirements.

Go through your scholarship application with a fine tooth comb

This goes along with the importance of following the application requirements. You don’t want your application to get chucked because you forgot to include your transcript or sent the version from freshmen year instead of last semester. After you’ve completed your application, recheck everything before you hit submit. Go back to the scholarship website or info page and make a list of the requirements to be sure you’ve included everything in your application that you need. Proofread your essay, recheck that you’ve included the correct letter of recommendation, and make sure you’ve signed your name where that verification is required.

Write a compelling scholarship essay

Like with your college applications, a compelling personal narrative can make your scholarship application stand out amongst the many similar ones a scholarship committee member might read. If the scholarship requires an essay, research the mission of the organization and write down the things they care about in a few bullet points. Describe your personal experiences, skills, and attributes as they relate to those tenets as the basis of your essay.  

Use the scholarship resources available online and in your local community

There are a number of scholarship databases available online where you can start your scholarship search. Bookmark the sites and check them early and often as new scholarships can pop up every day.

Don’t forget to take advantage of in-person opportunities that can help you with your scholarship search including those available at your high school and local library:

  • The financial aid office at a college or career school

  • Your employer or your parents’ employers

  • Your high school counselor

  • Your library’s reference section

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