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Applying for scholarships often takes a significant amount of time, so it’s important to balance effort and time into the scholarship with the likelihood that you will be seriously considered. There are many tools and tips available to help you make these decisions.

Use scholarship databases to conduct your initial search

There are several scholarship matching databases available to help students apply for scholarships, large and small. One of the most well-known is Fastweb. Another large database is scholarships.com, and the College Board also has one called Career One Stop. These databases allow you to create a profile with your personal information (i.e. heritage, place of birth, parents’ info), your academic information (i.e. GPA, extracurricular activities, college field of interest), and your personal interests. The databases use the data provided in your profile to suggest scholarships for which you may be eligible.

The only surefire way to not get any scholarships is to not apply

As you begin applying for scholarships, you may feel that there are some for which you are not quite qualified or competitive enough. However, for every scholarship, there must be a winner. For many of the lesser known scholarships have very few applicants, and even if you don’t quite meet all the requisites, you may be the most qualified of the applicant pool. In some cases, you may be the only applicant!

When applying, find the balance between the amount of time needed to complete the application, how many of the requisites you meet, and award amount.

Start early

Many major scholarships are due nearly a year prior to their selection. Some have multiple stages or require interview. Therefore, when applying for scholarships, it is important to start early. For high schoolers, this means you should begin searching for scholarships by your junior year.

Some scholarships have rolling deadlines, meaning you can submit them at any time. Others have solid annual deadlines. Starting early can help you budget your time, know when to request letters, and avoid scrambling at the last minute. Most scholarships receive far more applications than they can fund, so give yourself time to write, re-write, and get feedback on your application to ensure yours stands out.

Be Organized and Follow Instructions

Organization will be the key to successfully applying for scholarships. Most scholarships are going to want one or more of the following: your official transcripts, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, or several essays. Other more specialized scholarships may ask you to prove your membership in a specific organization or provide proof of a talent (i.e. a video or portfolio). Therefore, you should ensure you have informed letter writers well in advance of deadlines that you will need letters. Moreover, you should follow up with your letter writers. If they miss deadlines, your application will be in jeopardy. Compile your portfolio, request your transcripts and test scores.

It can be tempting to re-use the same essays for different scholarships, but this is inadvisable. While some of the main themes of your essays may remain the same, you should be prepared to tailor your essay to each individual prompt on scholarship applications.

Finally, ensure you follow directions. Read through directions and prompts carefully. List out supporting documents required with the application. Note deadlines for submission, as well as when you should expect to hear back for interviews, round 2 applications.

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