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10 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Winning Scholarships

June 25, 2010 By: Julie Manhan Category: Aid for College, Finding a scholarship, Scholarships

People can be quick to tell you that there are lots of scholarships out there that go unrewarded every year.  While that is true, sometimes they make it sound like all you have to do is fill out an application for these scholarships and the money is as good as yours.  I wish it was that easy, but there’s more to it than that.


Photo by Alan Cleaver

It’s all about being both qualified for the scholarship and willing to do the work it may take to apply.  Students and parents often hear about other students who receive significant scholarships.  What they may not hear is that those students’ preparation for winning scholarships began long before senior year.  They figured out what I am about to tell you and ran with it.  You can do the same.

1.  Get involved in your community - now. Whether it’s your time, talent, or just being willing to listen, you can make a difference in the world around you.  Find something you’re passionate about and give it your all.  Want to address a need that you don’t think is being met?  Don’t be afraid to start small and ask for help.  The important thing is to put your heart into it.  Students who win scholarships have rarely done the minimum.

2.  Do your best in school. You don’t have to be in the top of your class to get a scholarship.  There are plenty of private scholarships out there that don’t put a lot of weight on grades, but if you end up in a group of scholarship finalists, your grades may come into play.  So, do your best to keep your grades up.

3.  Sign up with a scholarship search engine.  This is a good starting point for any high school student.  Set up your profile and keep it updated, so the search engine can send you info on scholarships that are a good match.  If nothing else, you will begin to see what people are looking for in their scholarship recipients.  You may also want to check out a book on scholarships from your local library.  You’ll be amazed by how many scholarships are out there - including the myUsearch !

4.  Ask for recommendations.  Colleges want academic recommendations, but scholarships often ask for recommendations from people who know you outside the classroom.  Someone who has seen you in a position where you are helping others is usually a good choice.  The important thing is to ask them to write that recommendation while what you’ve done is still fresh in his or her mind.  If you wait too long, chances are that the letter will be more generic than you might like it to be.

5.  Pay close attention to the scholarships announced at your school.  Even if you’re not a senior, find out what local scholarships are available to students and check out the requirements.  The more you know, the better you will be able to prepare to apply.  Keep in mind that your chances of winning scholarships that are local are usually better because there are generally fewer applicants.

6.  Let everyone know that you are looking for scholarships.  The more people you have helping you find scholarships, the better.  You may be surprised by their efforts on your behalf.  Make sure you also get to know the person in your school who is in charge of scholarships and help them get to know you.  He or she can be a great advocate in your quest to win scholarships.

7.  Never reject a scholarship just because the amount seems “too small”.   Some students look at the scholarship amount and decide it’s not worth their time.  Anyone who has fewer student loans because of the scholarships they have received will tell you that it was well worth the effort - especially when you consider the interest that accrues on the money you have to borrow.

8.  Make sure you are qualified for the scholarship.  Be sure you read scholarship requirements carefully.  Applying for a large number of scholarships for which you are minimally qualified is rarely a good choice. Instead, put that effort into a smaller number of scholarships for which you are well-qualified. Not sure how qualified you are?  Ask the person at your school who handles scholarships.

9.  Put your best effort into your scholarship applications.  Minimal effort brings minimal results.  This is your chance to make an impression.  Scholarship applications that reflect your effort and pride in your work by carefully following instructions and including well-written essays and strong recommendations, if required, will always rise to the top.

10. Start early and keep applying.   Winning scholarships takes research, preparation and perseverance.  The more effort you put into the process, the more likely you will have a positive outcome.

Just to be clear, the tips above are for private scholarships and those special college scholarships that you must apply for.  College merit scholarships, which are often significantly larger, do not require a separate application.  They are usually awarded automatically on the basis of the information you provide on your college application.

No one can guarantee that you will win a scholarship.  Your chances of doing that are in your own hands. Just remember that the real key to winning scholarships goes back to what I said in #1: “Find something you’re passionate about and give it your all.”  Whether it’s academics, art, music, athletics, or community service, putting forth your best effort will always shine through.  You don’t even necessarily have to be the best - you just need to do your best.   If you always do that, you will accomplish more than just winning scholarships.