In the past, I have written several posts advising students on how to write a scholarship essay, debunking scholarship myths and how to know if a scholarship program is legitimate. Although these articles give students the basic foundation they need to successfully navigate the world of college scholarships, I find that many still want to know one very specific thing… How do students win a scholarship? There really is no black and white answer, as most providers have their own set of criteria for choosing a scholarship winner, but students may want to consider these suggestions to increase their chances of making it into the finalist pool.
1. Start Locally
Most local scholarships are offered through area merchants, clubs, civic groups and individuals. Students can locate available opportunities by checking with their guidance counselors, local media websites (television, radio, etc.), newspapers and community portals. Since most local scholarships offer smaller awards and target a narrow group of students (city, county, year in school, etc.), the odds of winning these awards are much greater than those in a statewide or national competition. In fact, some local scholarship programs receive fewer than 100 applications per year.
2. Consider Smaller Awards
For some reason, many students ignore or avoid scholarships that are valued under $500; they may feel as though these programs are not worth their time, but these awards do add up! Smaller scholarships can help cover the cost of books, supplies and other expenses that may not be covered by the larger awards. Many providers often disburse smaller scholarship awards directly to the students, as well. Even if students spend two hours on a $200 scholarship, they will have been paid $100 an hour for their time. Not too bad!
3. Remember, More Work = Less Applicants
Unfortunately, many students do not want to spend much time on scholarship applications; they would rather complete a contact form and take their chances, instead of putting any real work into it. For those who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and really dig in, there are a plethora of scholarships waiting to be won. Once an essay word count reaches the 1,000 mark, or multiple essays are required, the number of applicants drops quite a bit. Students who apply for programs that require little to no work may be battling against 50,000 or more students for one scholarship, whereas those who take the time to submit to a more substantial program may have a 1 in 500 shot of winning. I definitely prefer those odds.
4. Focus on Your Interests
Too often, I see students applying for every scholarship under the sun; this can easily lead to burnout. To avoid this dilemma, students should focus on scholarships that interest them. For example, those who spend considerable time doing charitable work may find it more rewarding to concentrate on volunteer scholarships, whereas students who enjoy math or science may find STEM scholarships more interesting. Scholarships are offered based on merit (grades), skills (music, art, drama, etc.), sports, unusual talents and a variety of other reasons, so students should have little trouble finding something that will excite them. If students are interested in what they are writing about, chances are the scholarship committee will be more interested in reading the applications, too.
5. Submit Your Best Work
Providers can easily spot an application that has been submitted hastily or without much thought; they are often riddled with grammatical errors, missing important elements or fail to stay on topic. Although students can increase their chances of winning scholarships by applying to many programs, it does absolutely no good if they submit poor quality work. To get the most out of their time, I suggest students focus on 5 to 10 scholarships each month, paying close attention to guidelines and ensuring all work is reviewed by at least one other person prior to submitting any applications. Small mistakes can often mean the difference between students making it the final round or having their applications sent to the ‘rejection’ pile, instead.
Of course, there’s one other thing students will need to win scholarships – a positive attitude! It’s tough sending off scholarship applications and not receiving an award right away, but those who stick with it often find that their efforts were worth it. Students must commit to winning and believe in themselves if they want to see results.
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