The benefits of higher education are numerous. One of the most commonly touted benefits of earning a college degree is the greater availability of employment opportunities. Yet, the cost of a college education can be discouraging for students and parents alike. Fortunately, there are ways of financing your education to reduce the overall costs, including applying for scholarships and grants. Continue reading for the inside scoop on how to get a scholarship to help make your college dreams come true.
How To Get a Scholarship: An Overview
One of the most important aspects of landing a scholarship is starting your search early. Many students wait until their junior or senior year of high school to begin their search for scholarship opportunities. Yet, some scholarships are only available to freshmen or sophomores. If you begin your search early, you may be able to secure free money for college before you even begin searching for the perfect college to attend.
Another thing to keep in mind is there are many different types of scholarships. Some scholarships are merit-based, while others award students who are committed to community service or have unique talents. Take a look at the following types of scholarships:
- Academic achievement: These are among the most common scholarships. They award college funding to students with excellent grades or test scores.
- Athletic achievement: If you’re reasonably accomplished at one or more sports, you may be able to secure an athletic scholarship, even if you aren’t a star athlete.
- Community service: Giving back to your community is good for your soul and your wallet. There are many opportunities available for students with a history of consistently participating in community service positions.
- Financial need: Need-based scholarships can help students from certain socioeconomic backgrounds attend college.
- Personal background: Students from backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented should search for these scholarship opportunities. For example, there are scholarships for female students who aspire to work in a STEM field.
- Family affiliation: Sometimes, scholarship availability has nothing to do with the student, but rather with their family. For instance, you may qualify for free college funding if a parent served in the military or works for a particular company. Walmart and CVS are examples of companies that award scholarships to children of employees.
- College-specific scholarships: It’s customary for colleges and universities to offer scholarships for prospective students who qualify, so check out opportunities available from the schools that interest you.
- Unique talents or attributions: Did you know that you might land a scholarship based solely on the fact that you can speak Klingon or that you’re committed to a vegan lifestyle? There are, indeed, scholarships available to students who have unique talents or hobbies, and these may have less competition than other awards.
There are virtually countless scholarship opportunities. It’s best to apply early and often to improve your chances of earning a scholarship. However, no one has time to apply for every scholarship (or even to search through all of them). Focus on the types of scholarships you are most likely to receive.
How To Get a Scholarship: Start Your Search
The process of how to get a scholarship begins with a search through legitimate databases. Many students approach the process as they would a job or class assignment. Set aside a certain amount of time each week to look for new opportunities and submit your applications. You can begin your search using the following websites:
- The College Board
- Scholarship Search by SallieMae
It’s also a good idea to check the website of your high school. It may list local scholarship opportunities that have less competition. In addition, check the websites of local community foundations and civic organizations. For example, explore opportunities available from the Elks Lodge, American Legion and other social and civic organizations that may have chapters in your area.
Note that you’ll likely receive many emails from these sites once you sign up and create your profiles. You may wish to create a separate email account specifically for your scholarship search.
It can be easy to lose track of the scholarships you’ve applied for once you begin submitting applications. Consider creating a spreadsheet to help you keep track, and be sure to update it with each new application. Your spreadsheet can also help you stay on top of application deadlines. Consider using the following categories for your sheet:
- Scholarship Name
- Website URL
- Amount of Aid
- Application Deadline
- Applied To? (Yes or No)
- Received Response? (Yes or No)
Naturally, you’ll want to prioritize your applications according to the deadlines. If you have a bunch of application deadlines clustered together and you lack the time to complete all of the applications, you may be tempted to prioritize your applications to the scholarships with the highest awards. Bear in mind that these are also the opportunities that will likely have the stiffest competition. You should instead strive for a mix of high-award and low-award scholarship applications to increase your chances of success.
How To Apply for a Scholarship: An Overview
Students often find the process of how to apply for a scholarship slightly intimidating. After all, there may be quite a bit of money on the line. First, know that you aren’t going to be rewarded every single scholarship to which you apply. National opportunities can be highly competitive, but if you’re qualified for them, it’s always worth it to apply. The key to receiving a scholarship is to apply to as many of them as possible.
Always read the information associated with each scholarship carefully. Each opportunity will have its own qualification criteria and application requirements. First, make sure you meet the criteria to apply. If not, move on to the next opportunity; you should find plenty that you do qualify for. If you do meet the criteria, assemble your application according to the award’s specific requirements.
The application materials required will vary from one award to the next. For example, need-based scholarships will focus on financial documentation. In general, you may be asked to submit any of the following items:
- High school transcript
- Standardized test scores
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Financial aid forms (FAFSA or CSS Profile)
- Parents’ tax returns or other proof of income
- Proof of eligibility (such as proof of membership in a certain organization or proof of a parent’s military service)
Even if a scholarship’s deadline is a few months away, you shouldn’t wait to begin your application. Keep in mind that you may need to rely on other people to provide certain pieces of your application. For example, it’s likely that you’ll need to ask people for letters of recommendation or proof of your eligibility to apply for the award. If this is the case, it’s best to submit your request as early as possible.
How To Request Your High School Transcript
Your high school transcript is a record of your academic achievements thus far. It will list all of your classes and the grades you received in them. There are two versions of your transcript: official and unofficial. An official transcript is a sealed document with tamper-proof marks. It’s sent directly from your high school to the awarding organization. An unofficial transcript isn’t sealed. You’ll pick it up from your high school and submit it yourself.
Always double-check the application instructions to find out if you need an official or unofficial transcript. It may take a few weeks for the organization to receive an official transcript, so definitely be sure to submit your request early. You can stop by your high school’s guidance counseling office to ask how you can request your transcript.
How To Send Standardized Test Scores
If you’re still a freshman or sophomore, you might not need to submit standardized test scores to a scholarship program. If these scores are required and you haven’t yet taken any standardized tests, then you aren’t eligible to receive the scholarship. Once you do have standardized test scores available, you can log into your account and follow the instructions to request the scores. For example, to send your SAT scores, you’ll log into your College Board account.
Bear in mind that there is generally a fee to send your standardized test scores to colleges and scholarship programs (unless you qualify for a fee waiver). However, College Board allows you to send up to four free score reports once you register for the SAT.
How To Write a Compelling Scholarship Essay
Many scholarships require you to submit an essay. It’s generally best to create a custom essay for each scholarship award. In fact, the scholarship programs you apply to may require it. Always follow the instructions carefully, including using the provided essay prompt, if applicable.
Scholarship programs often require applicants to submit personal essays that reflect upon the person’s life, accomplishments and challenges they have overcome. Many people find it difficult to write about themselves. If this is the case for you, try stepping outside of your own shoes. Pretend that you’re actually writing about someone else. In fact, you may wish to use third-person pronouns for your first draft. Just be sure to switch them to first-person pronouns in your final copy.
The introduction is the most important part of a scholarship essay because it draws the reader in. Strive to create an element of suspense. For example, you might write something like this: “In 2010, I received a phone call about my brother, who was serving overseas. Little did I know that my life was about to change forever.”
It’s also important to create a clear, well-organized structure for your essay. Even if you aren’t going to use subheadings in the final copy, you can divide the essay draft into sections to allow for more organized writing. End your essay on an attention-grabbing note. For example, you might want to end it with a question or an interesting fact that you learned.
Once you finish writing, set your essay aside for a few days. Then, reread it with fresh eyes and edit. Don’t be afraid to rewrite entire sections if you think they could be better. You may also wish to ask one or more people to read your essay and provide feedback. Lastly, be sure to proofread carefully.
How To Request Letters of Recommendation
It’s customary for scholarship programs to request one or more letters of recommendation. Additionally, there may be requirements on who provides these recommendations. For instance, one program may require a letter from your guidance counselor, while another might request a teacher’s or an employer’s recommendation.
Although professionals, such as teachers and guidance counselors, are accustomed to being asked for letters of recommendation, remember that you’re asking for a favor. Be polite and thank the person even if they say they are unable to write a letter on your behalf. Sometimes, a teacher may be asked for so many letters during a particular semester that it’s simply impossible to take on new requests.
Lastly, approach teachers, counselors or others well in advance of the scholarship deadline. You should provide at least one month of notice, although more time is always better. Keep in mind that you should be able to reuse letters of recommendation for multiple scholarship programs. Retain the originals and make a few copies to have on hand, ready to send out.
Tips for Landing an NCAA Scholarship
If you play sports in high school, keep good grades, and would like to do so in college, you may be able to secure some financial aid. Here are a few general tips to prepare you for a chance to qualify for a NCAA scholarship:
- Don’t pass up opportunities to connect with coaches and school officials, as networking is crucial for student-athletes to get noticed.
- Study the rules of the NCAA carefully in order to reduce the risk that you’ll accidentally disqualify yourself from scholarship aid.
- If you get a chance to meet with a college coach, strive to impress them with your maturity, character and work ethic—not just with your athletic accomplishments.
- If you’re having trouble getting meetings with college coaches, take the initiative to reach out via email or phone call, or even by sending them a highlight reel of your athletics accomplishments.
- Take good care of your health by maintaining good nutrition and working out regularly.
At Grand Canyon University, we believe it’s important to keep tuition costs competitive to allow greater access to a high-quality, private education for students across the nation. We are pleased to offer scholarships and grants to our on-campus students and online learners in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. We encourage you to apply to all scholarships you qualify for. Please click Request Info at the top of your screen to explore our dynamic learning community.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.