Hello, everyone! I think that all students can agree that the price tag of a college education is scary. For most students, trying to avoid and/or overcome a 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. 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
This is a crucial step for anyone who is wishing to apply to large amounts of scholarships. I have a full article about how I organize my scholarship binder coming soon, which includes a bunch of great printables for you to use. I also suggest buying a calendar or an agenda to write down application due dates, when you need to send it out by, the announcement date, etc. If you want, you can even write down the due date as being several days earlier, just to make sure you stay ahead.
Step Two: Collect Additional Materials
You should always have extra copies of official transcripts, recommendation letters, and your resume on hand. Even though I always requested several copies of my transcript at a time, I was constantly going to my school’s office to collect more. (By the end of the year, I was a very familiar face.) Even more, I have had several occasions when I would be double-checking—or even triple-checking—which materials I needed to send in with my application, 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.
Step Three: Create a Portfolio
If you can, start this as soon as you enter high school. Many scholarships will ask you for a list and/or description of community service, leadership positions, and student activities you have participated in. Instead of trying to remember each one as you fill out each individual application, you should create a “portfolio” to refer to each time you go to apply to a scholarship. By beginning this portfolio in your freshman year of high school, you can add to it over the years. This makes applying to scholarships so much easier since you can just copy-and-paste this list into the application.
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 scholarship applications on hand; many local businesses and organizations will send their scholarship applications to nearby schools to give to students. Even if you’re an underclassman (many local scholarships are for seniors), their applications will probably the same by the time you’re a senior, so you could go ahead and start writing the essay now.
Step Five: Organize Your Scholarships
This one sounds easy enough, right? 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 save the criteria, name, and web address under a file that is labeled “Month day—Scholarship Name” (the “Month day” referring to the application deadline). This orders all of my scholarships by their due date, giving me an easy way to see their deadlines and work on their applications.
Step Six: Write Your Essays and Bios
For most scholarships, this is only portion of the actual application (besides filling out your basic information). Before you even begin writing an essay, I would suggest doing research on how to write the best scholarship 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. Scholarships often ask for a brief bio about you as well, so I would suggest writing one of these ahead of time; it’s just another cut-and-paste sort of thing that can save you a lot of time.
Step Seven: Postal Mail Materials
Once you finally 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, make sure that you don’t get the “postmark date” and the “received by” date mixed up.
I also recommend that you use large manila envelopes to mail your application–so that you don’t have to fold it up (which makes it look more professional–and taking it to the post office, rather than sticking it in your mailbox. There was one time that I mailed it from my mailbox, thinking that I had put enough stamps on it, only to receive it back in the mail a few days later with a sticker saying that it needed more postage. You do not want this to happen to you, especially if you are trying to beat the deadline.
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.
Does this sound like a lot of work? I’ll admit that it is, but it’s also extremely rewarding. 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.
I hope that these steps can help you begin applying for scholarships.
P.S. Do you have any questions, comments, or tips of your own? Please write me a letter back (in the comments) or email me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!