All students can agree that the price tag of a college education is scary. Between tuition and fees, housing, meal plans, parking passes, textbooks, and more, it seems like the many bills that come with it never seems to end. For most students, trying to avoid and/or overcome this mountain of student debt is…well…like trying to climb a mountain. Luckily, there are plenty of scholarships out there to help us fund our education.
When I began to apply for scholarships in my junior year of high school, I read so many articles about students who are winning hundreds of thousands of dollars—sometimes even millions—in scholarships. I didn’t even know how it was possible, much less how I could do it. While I know the chances of winning that much is slim, a student really only needs the total cost to earn for their degree. (Although with great planning, motivation, and hard work, it is possible to earn a huge amount!)
Are you wishing that you could be one of those students yourself?
I’m going to be honest: I haven’t won millions of dollars in scholarships and I’m not going to pretend like I have. Nor have I received every scholarship that I have applied to. What I can say is that I have applied for dozens of scholarships over the past few years, and throughout that time, I’ve learned a lot about what does and does not work for me. From what I’ve learned, I’ve been able to develop my own organization and application methods, which have allowed me to submit more high-quality applications in less time.
My hope is that by sharing what I have learned with you, you can apply it to your own scholarship endeavors.
Disclaimer: Following the steps in this article does not guarantee that you will win more scholarships. Instead, I wrote this as a way to help people get organized so that they can apply to more scholarships. Applying to more scholarships does not necessarily guarantee that you will win more scholarships.
Step One: Get Organized
While organizing can be something that many students dread, it is a crucial step for anyone who is wishing to apply to large amounts of scholarships. The first step is to create a scholarship binder, and I have an entire article over how to do that by clicking here. It even comes with free printables! The scholarship binder will help keep your deadlines organized, along with your applications, student activities, and other materials that you will need. However, even though I have several printables that can help you track your scholarship deadlines, I also recommend writing the due dates in your school agenda, because it can help having it written in more than one place, in case you accidentaly look over it.
If you want, you can even write down the due date as being several days early, just to make sure you stay ahead.
Step Two: Collect Additional Materials
In my senior year of high school, I was constantly going to my school’s office to collect copies of my transcript, even though I was often requesting and picking up more than one at a time. This was because I kept extra copies of any essential scholarship materials, such as recommendation letters, resumes, and (of course) transcripts, in my scholarship binder at all times. These are common materials required by scholarship organizations, and if there’s ever a last-minute scholarship you’re applying to, or an overlooked an application material that you don’t see until the last second, then you don’t miss the deadline by not having extra copies of these items on hand.
In my own experience, I have had several occasions when I would be double-checking—or even triple-checking—the required application materials, only to realize that I had somehow skipped over a required material! If I didn’t have these extra copies on hand, then I would not have been able to apply; some of these scholarships I actually won, but had I not had extra copies of these materials on hand, then I would not have been able to apply in time.
Step Three: Create a Portfolio
A scholarship portfolio should begin at the high school level, although activities and honors earned before then can be included if they were earned at the state or national level.
A portfolio is created because many application will ask for a list and/or description of your community service, leadership positions, and student activities. By having a portfolio of these items, you just have to refer to it each time you fill out the application, rather than trying to recall each item individually for each application. The best part about creating a portfolio is because you can essentially copy-and-paste this information into each application, speeding up the application process.
Step Four: Find Your Scholarships
Before you can apply for scholarships, you need to find which ones you are eligible for first. There are multiple different scholarships engines out there (even apps!) that you can use. I wouldn’t recommend using all of them, since that can easily become overwhelming, but using two or three is good idea since some scholarships may be listed on one site and not another.
I also recommend checking to see if your school has any applications available for local scholarships, as many community businesses/organizations will send their applications to nearby schools. Although many of these scholarships are specifically for seniors, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at what these application require and what the essays are, as the applications are often the same year after year. By looking at what is required ahead of time, you can start brainstorming your essay, and can make sure you fit any requirements the scholarship has.
Step Five: Organize Your Scholarships
This one sounds easy enough, right? That is because the key to applying to multiple scholarships is to stay organized. Find an organization method that works for you and then stick to it. I prefer to use a binder, but some people like to use accordion folders, regular folders, etc.
Besides organizing potential scholarships in my binder, I also organize them on my flash drive. With each scholarship, I create a document where I insert the criteria, name, and web address of the scholarship, and then save the file under a name that goes like this: “Month day—Scholarship Name”. For example, I might have it labeled “February 15th–Lincoln County Art Scholarship”.
Having the documents labeled like this organizes them by their due date within the folder, which makes it easy to see their due dates and find the one that I want to work on.
Step Six: Write Your Essays and Bios
For most scholarships, this is only portion of the actual application that you actually have to do. (Of course, this excludes filling out your basic information and your activities and honors, which you just have to copy-and-paste if you have a pre-created portfolio)
However, before you even begin writing an essay, I suggest doing research on how to write the best scholarship essay, as an scholarship essay is quite different then an academic essay.
Before you write any essay, you should also create a generic list of what makes you unique and the best candidate for a scholarship. What are you involved in? What do you do in your free time? How would your friends describe you? These questions come up a lot in essay prompts, in short bios, and even scholarship interviews. Create a short list of these items, and also write a generic bio about yourself that you can cut-and-paste into scholarship applications, if needed. Doing these things before starting can save you a lot of time in the long run.
Step Seven: Postal Mail Materials
Once you have your essays written, the application filled out, and the additional materials collected, it is finally time to submit your application. When you are applying for a scholarship that needs to be sent through postal mail, it is important to make sure that you don’t get the “postmark” date and the “receive by” date mixed up.
I also recommend that you use large manila envelopes to mail your application, which means that you don’t have to fold your application up. Having it arrive with no creases and not in a bulging envelope makes it look much more professional upon arrival.
Additionally, I suggest taking the application to the post office and finding out how much postage you need, rather than guessing and sending it from your home mail box. I tried sending one of my applications from home once, thinking that I had put enough postage stamps on it, only to receive it back in the mail with a sticker saying that it required additional postage. The problem was, the day that I had originally sent it was the “postmark by” date, and since I had received it back in the mail days later without a postmark, it was technically no longer eligible for the competition.Believe me, you do not want this to happen to you, no matter how close or far from the deadline you are.
Step Eight: Document Your Scholarships
Applying to scholarships doesn’t just end when you submit your application. After each scholarship that I apply to, I write down the information on my “Applied Scholarships” printable, which you can access through my “How to Organize Your Scholarship Binder” post. This helps me keep track of what scholarships I have applied to, the benefactor, deadline, announcement date, and whether I won or not. By having this printable, you will also know when to keep an eye on your inbox/mailbox and when to check the sponsor’s website/social media pages for updates. It’s also a great way to track how many scholarships you have applied to and won.
While I’ll admit that this is a lot of work, I have found that it is the best method for me, and it has been extremely rewarding. By staying organized and using these steps to apply to scholarships, I have applied to dozens of scholarships, and have won quite a few of them. My one piece of advice is to never feel discouraged and give up, even if you don’t win a scholarship on your first few tries. You should also never ever focus on how many scholarships you didn’t receive; after all, you never hear any scholarship recipients discuss many they lost before they finally won, right? Most likely, you’re going to lose more scholarship competitions then you’re going to win, but that doesn’t matter. As long as you keep trying, your hard work will pay off, and you can conquer that mountain of student debt before it even begins to build up.
What steps do you follow for applying to scholarships, and how do you stay organized? Or maybe you have some questions for me? Write a comment down below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!