A Simple Guide to Applying for Scholarships

By Alicia Geigel on September 22, 2018

As a college student, one of our biggest goals is to be awarded with scholarships to help fund our college education and lessen the financial burden of our tuition. In an age controlled by the internet, college scholarships are literally everywhere, with a multitude of websites and sources all pulling us in a different direction. Because there is so much information about scholarships out there, it is sometimes incredibly hard to determine which scholarships are worth applying for, which ones are bad/scams, a waste of time, or if you even should apply for scholarships.

I remember when I was a junior/senior in high school stressed out about applying for scholarships and the likelihood of one being awarded to me. I felt overwhelmed at the thousands upon thousands of scholarships available online and soon realized that there had to be one or a few out there that applied to me. Soon enough, I remember being approached in my guidance counselor’s office about a local scholarship contest that would be awarded to a female student with excellent grades and a strong presence in extracurricular activities. I thought to myself, “I probably won’t get this, I’m sure there are plenty of students that are way better than I am.” So, I wrote the required essay, provided a student resume and anxiously waited to hear the winner. Less than a few weeks later, the winner was announced: Alicia Geigel! That’s me! I was completely shocked when I was awarded the scholarship, but so appreciative to the Women’s Club for seeing my potential and recognizing my dedication to school. The $2,000 went a long way for me and helped to lessen the stress and worry of paying for school.

I tell you my story because I know that for most of us, applying for scholarships is overwhelming and confusing. Despite this, you can and will get scholarships if you follow the right steps and be persistent in your search.  Are you a prospective or current college student who is unsure about your chance at obtaining a scholarship? Are you overwhelmed about where to start and how to apply? Have you lost faith that there’s no way you could get one based on your grades, ethnicity, etc.? This ultimate guide to applying for scholarships will give you step to step tips on where to look for scholarships, when to apply, how to prepare for applying, and how to secure one for yourself. It’s not as hard as it seems, you just have to have a little faith and some confidence in yourself that you can do it!

laptop, computer, girl, hand, work

Image via Pexels

What’s the Difference Between Scholarships and Grants? 

For any student looking for financial assistance in college, scholarships and grants are often lumped together as “free money that you don’t have to pay back.” While this is true for both, it is important to know the difference between the two. Grants are a type of financial aid typically disbursed by the government, such as the Pell Grant (for low-income undergraduate students), states Shayla of Unigo. To determine your eligibility for these grants, be sure fill out the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Scholarships, on the other hand, are another form of financial aid usually given out by individuals, non-profit organizations, religious groups, ethnic/historical organizations, and corporations.

Breaking Down the Misconceptions

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation when it comes to scholarships, which can not only turn students away from applying, but it can also make funding their education even harder in the long run. Fear not, you are not alone in your thoughts!

Last October, I wrote an article on the myths of scholarships, ranging from who gets scholarships to what it takes to get a scholarship. While talking about applying for scholarships, I feel it is important to include some of the (almost) universal misconceptions many hold about scholarships to help you gain that confidence back and demonstrate that anyone can get a scholarship.

Scholarships are only awarded to those with the best grades: It is unfortunate that while in high school and college we are convinced that only the best students get scholarships, and if you have mediocre grades, you’re out of luck. While this is perhaps the greatest and most circulated scholarship myth out there, it is completely untrue! There are many scholarships that do not even consider your grades. These do consider, however, GPA which most of the time is a minimum of a 2.5 instead of a 4.0, leaving more room for students to apply and obtain scholarships, according to Scholarships.com. Additionally, Mark Kantrowitz of FastWeb.com affirms this by stating, “Less than 10% of private scholarships are based on academic performance.” So if you don’t have straight As and a 4.0 don’t worry, there are scholarships out there for you!

Scholarships have to be well written, by the best writers: Yep, again not true! While of course, it does not hurt to write well on your scholarship essays, you do not have to be some sort of Hemmingway to get a scholarship. Most scholarships are concerned with the content of your essay rather than how well it is written (i.e. grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, etc.) Scholarships.com notes that, “Whether you follow the instructions and address the essay question is often more crucial to your success than how eloquently you write.”

Scholarships are really only for high school students: Though this seems silly, believe it or not, this is a popular myth that many students believe! Due to the fact that scholarships are heavily encouraged during high school and not so much in college, many students believe that once they are in college, they are left with either taking out loans, working, or receiving help from their parents to fund their education. Sites like Unigo.com and CollegeScholarships.org offer a bunch of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. To my friends in college, there is still plenty out there for you!

Most scholarships are for minority students: While there are many scholarships out there exclusively for students of a specific race or ethnicity, that does not mean that they all are nor does it mean that you do not have a chance at being rewarded a scholarship for this reason. In fact, according to Kantrowitz, white students win more than their fair share of scholarships, with white students having a 14.4% chance of winning scholarships in comparison to 11.2% of minority students. Why is this? Kantrowitz points to many reasons, such as geography and varied interests and values.

Applying for scholarships is too competitive: This myth is rooted in some truth only in that if you are applying for a scholarship that does not have extensive criteria (i.e. you fill out contact information and your school), there is the chance that you are applying with hundreds of thousands of other students. Scholarships like these are definitely competitive because of the amount of time and the content it requires to fill out the form. However, not all scholarships are this competitive, instead, consider more value/interest/location-specific scholarship applications when searching. According to Jessica Zdunek of U.S. News, considering local scholarships may be your best bet when applying. She one reason being, “Your Zip code, city or county could mean you’re eligible for awards most people can’t apply for. And the more specific these programs get – for example, requiring a certain GPA, extracurricular involvement, or volunteer hours – the better your chances of winning, given you meet the criteria listed.”

Infographic by Alicia Geigel

Applying for Scholarships

How to Prepare: Before beginning your search into the complex world of scholarships, there are a few things to do to prepare yourself.

  • Know What Scholarship Committees Look For: Usually, scholarship committees don’t zero in on one specific trait that a student has, rather they typically look for students who are well rounded, with a mix of good grades, involvement in extracurricular activities, engagement in service opportunities, etc.   
  • Take Advantage of Volunteer Opportunities: This tip coincidentally ties into the previous one in that it involves one of the traits scholarship committees look for, which is engagement in volunteer/service opportunities! Volunteering is a big bonus on any kind of scholarship application you may send in, so if you see an opportunity perhaps at a local homeless shelter, hospital, or charitable event, go for it!
  • Seek Guidance from Counselors: I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that a large portion of us don’t like to seek the help of others, whether it be out of pride or shyness, but when it comes to applying for scholarships, you should take advantage of teachers, counselors and parents to help you with any troublesome part of the application.
  • Collect Relevant Information: Don’t make yourself overwhelmed during every scholarship application by having to search around for important dates or re-type every academic achievement you’ve had. Instead, prior to applying for the scholarships, Michael Gardon of the Simple Dollar suggests gathering together all information you think you’ll need for an application, such as grades, activities, accomplishments, etc.

Navigating Your Search: This is a stressful and perhaps most overwhelming part of applying for scholarships, but these few tips can help you find the best scholarships for you, where to find them, and how to go about looking.

  • Start Early: Scholarship applications aren’t usually something that you can pop out in a few minutes, they take a bit of time to thoroughly fill out each section carefully. Because of this, it is important to apply for scholarships as early as you can to allow yourself enough time to write a successful application and get it sent out before its deadline.
  • Focus on Quantity: This step is simple, but overlooked! Apply for as many scholarships as you can and focus on quantity over quality. There’s no limit on the number of scholarships you can apply for- $100 here and $300 there can go a long way!
  • Search Frequently: Don’t give up searching for scholarships right away if you can’t find anything. Sources are constantly updating their sites to show the most recent scholarship openings with their deadlines, so keep searching frequently and the perfect one will come your way, I promise!
  • Use the Free Sources: Free sources include but are not limited to high school and college counselors, online scholarship sites, federal aid and state grant agencies, etc. Take advantage of these sources, they won’t cost you a dime!

Where to Look

University Scholarships: Look no further than your favorite, preferred universities for scholarships that could be perfect for you! According to Cathie Ericson of Forbes, “Schools award two main types of financial aid: need-based (dependent on your family household income) and merit-based (offered because of your achievements, whether academic, athletic or artistic, to name a few).” Distinguish what kind of aid you are seeking and research the types of awards your prospective school gives out according to the type of aid you need.

Local Scholarships: Local scholarships are great ways to find financial aid as well. Some groups that support students and award scholarships include high school groups, civic groups, community foundations, local businesses, and state programs.

National Scholarships: National scholarships are the ones you are probably most familiar with, meaning ones that are open to students across the country. Look for national scholarships on websites like Scholarships.com, Unigo.com, CollegeBoard.com, and CollegeNet.com

How to Secure a Scholarship

Work on Your Essay: I stated earlier that you don’t have to be a Hemmingway to get a decent scholarship, which is true. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t try and make a polished, interesting essay to capture the eyes of those who are awarding scholarships. Seek the advice of a counselor, peers, parents, or teachers to help you refine ideas, improve on your writing style, and check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Don’t Let Your Grades Slip: A lot of students like to let senioritis take over glide their senior year because they think that their grades won’t matter in terms of applying for scholarships or getting into college. That’s totally false! While your grades from your first three years of high school are looked at heavily, your senior grades aren’t ignored. So keep on pushing through school and do the best you can, it won’t go unnoticed!

graduation, graduate, college, cap, gown, sky

Image via Pexels

Are you convinced you can win a scholarship, yet? Regardless of when you apply or how many scholarships you apply for, it is never too late to begin to apply and reap the rewards that you deserve. So take some time out of your day to evaluate what your interests are, verify whether you are a minority, discover what your local town offers, etc., to fuel your search for scholarships! And remember, there is some kind of scholarship out there for you!

By Alicia Geigel

Uloop Writer
Temple alum | columnist at Uloop News | photographer | food blogger if you want to learn more about me, visit my profile and check out my articles!

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