Before borrowing money, make sure you explore all of your options. There are millions of dollars worth of scholarships that go unawarded each year. In order to get this free money, you have to apply!
First, check for local scholarships that are not advertised nationally. Good places to start are with your employer and your parents’ employers, your bank, local rotary clubs and community organizations, your religious organization, your school, your local library, foundations, and organizations that represent your cultural bursaries heritage, career field, or that of your parents.
Second, check with the school you plan on attending, which often offer scholarships for specific career fields or scholarships for individuals only attending their school. Many schools will have these scholarships, along with other local scholarships, listed on their website or a printed scholarship list available from the financial aid office.
Beware of ‘paid scholarship services’ or companies that ‘guarantee money for school’. You can use free search engines to locate and apply for scholarships and will have the same opportunity to win the scholarship as everyone else.
Third, perform key word searches on the Internet for scholarships, specifically include key words, such as intended career and associated professional organizations. Many businesses and professional organizations offer scholarships for students pursuing a career in a specific field and many do not post their scholarships anywhere but on their website.
You should also check these free sites for scholarship postings. Many scholarship search engine sites allow you to browse thousands of scholarship opportunities and narrow your search by school, gpa, field of study, extracurricular activities, ethnicity, and religion.
Scholarship Tips for Success
Read the Fine Print – Be sure you meet all requirements and qualifications prior to spending time on a specific scholarship. Many scholarship review committees will accept your application without an initial review, but if you are not qualified you will never be selected as the winner.
Play the Odds – Apply for several scholarships and do not limit yourself to one or two applications. Also, smaller, local scholarships for your specific school are likely to have less applicants and competition, which will give you better odds.
Know your Odds – Some scholarship sponsors will publish the number of applicants and the number of scholarships awarded the previous year. If not, it is OK to call the scholarship sponsor and request this information. If there is only 2 scholarships available and the sponsor received 2,000 applications last year, you may want to invest your time into a different scholarship application.
Focus on your Strengths – If you are an athlete, focus on athletic scholarships. If you are an ‘A’ student, focus on merit-based scholarships or those based on GPA. Do not randomly select scholarships that you are not likely to have the experience or skill to win.
Meet all Deadlines – Mark a calendar and track all required application deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you will be automatically disqualified.
Renewable Works Best – Some scholarships are renewable for multiple years of college. It will take you the same amount of time to apply, but you will get money for each year of college. This is a no-brainer. Apply, apply, apply..
Be Prepared – Scholarship applications often require similar information. To save time create a folder that includes a copy of your tax forms, your resume or work history, community service or volunteer experience, school clubs and activities, transcript, and recommendation letters. Keep a copy of every application and essay you submit in this same folder. It will save you time and keep you on track!
Know What’s Required of You – Some scholarships will require you to attend an awards ceremony, maintain a certain grade point average, remain in a field of study, etc.. If you doubt that you will be able to continue to qualify it may be better to skip this scholarship and keep looking.
Dana Macke-Redford is the Manager of Marketing and Development for the Arizona Higher Education Loan Authority, a non-profit student loan provider. She also teaches seminars, classes, and makes presentations on a variety of management, communication, financial literacy, financial aid, and student loan topics.