College Scholarship Application Tips
The best kind of financial aid is financial aid that you don’t have to pay back. For the most part, this includes college scholarships and grants. Grants come from the government and are typically limited; you don’t receive a lot of money and usually have to be an undergraduate to get one. College scholarships can provide larger awards and are available at all levels of study, but you have to compete against other applicants to get them.
In light of this competitiveness, here are six steps you can take to make finding scholarship money for college easier:
1. Get good grades and participate in extracurricular activities. Hopefully some of you reading this are still in high school, looking to get a jump on college preparation. If you are, now is the best time to study hard and get involved with your school and/or community. Merit-based scholarships – those conferred for doing well in school and other activities – are plentiful, but the competition for them is especially intense. If you start earning good grades and participating in extracurricular activities early, you significantly increase your chances of landing merit-based awards.
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Already in college? It’s certainly not too late to try for these types of college scholarships. If you bring in top grades during your freshman and sophomore years, and stay involved in extracurriculars, you could find yourself in serious contention for merit-based awards as a junior or senior. And college graduates with exceptional academic records can even get grad school scholarships if they decide to enter a master’s or doctoral program.
2. Pick the right scholarships to apply for. Use all of the resources available to you to search for scholarships; the Internet and your library are two good places to start. Then narrow down your list to those that are appropriate for your accomplishments, your major and your need. It does you no good to apply for a scholarship that is only awarded to pre-med majors if you’re studying business. Each scholarship program will clearly identify its minimum requirements. If you meet them, apply. If not, move on to the next one.
A side note here: beware of scam scholarships. There are fraudulent offers out there designed to take your money or your personal information (or both) and give you nothing in return. As a general rule, if you’re asked to pay money to apply for a scholarship, it’s a scam. They’re supposed to be giving you money, not the other way around.
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3. Prepare a list of your accomplishments, qualifications and other details. College scholarship applications typically ask for a lot of the same material: your high school GPA, your SAT score, what organizations you belong to, your contact information and the contact information of your references. Before you start filling out applications, gather all of this together in a single document. That way, when you need to know the address of a former employer or the full name of an organization you volunteered for three summers ago, you’ll have the correct information right at hand.
4. If you have to write an essay, be personal and concrete. Don’t write about why participating in sports or clubs is good for students, write about your experiences as part of the baseball team or theater group. Detail what you learned and how it affected you academically, personally and socially. The people reviewing your application aren’t interested in abstractions, they want to know about you.
5. Proofread your application and essay. Scholarship committees will seldom consider an application or essay with serious errors, such as poor grammar, frequent misspellings or an incorrect address. A good strategy here is to set your work aside for 24 hours after finishing it. When you read it over again the next day, any mistakes will be more obvious to you than they would have been immediately after writing it. If this isn’t possible, at least walk away from your application or essay for a few minutes before proofreading it; while not optimal, this will at least give your eyes and mind a quick break before having to search for errors.
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6. Get your application in on time. It sounds simple, but every year there are qualified students who lose college scholarships because they miss the deadline. Find out when each application is due, and get it in before that date. Enough said.