Whether you’re supplementing your savings or starting from scratch, most of us can use a hand with college expenses. Every little bit helps, and scholarships can provide the supplement you need. They reduce the amount of money you have to borrow while you earn a degree. Planning ahead is half the battle.
Here are some tips to get you there…
Check college deadlines early. Review your eligibility for financial aid, grants and scholarships as soon as possible, preferably a year in advance. Starting early has many benefits. Some funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll have a better chance to receive more money if you apply early. You’ll also reduce mistakes that often happen when you’re rushed.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Don’t just complete scholarship applications. Utilize other resources that assist with college costs as well, such as the FAFSA. That way, if one falls through, you can lean on the other. Apply for multiple scholarships, rather than those only available at your school, or those only specific to academics or sports.
Search for scholarships that are unique to you.
It’s easier to win a scholarship that matches your background, talent and passion. The better suited you are, the more enthusiastic you’ll be. Your passion and goals will shine through as you write your essay or complete your application.
Use a cheat sheet.
Save answers to questions you see on most college applications, then use them as a template you can re-use to quickly submit different applications. Do the same with essay prompts, so you’ll have a pool of resources to pull from.
Save your accomplishments.
Keep any academic, athletic or volunteer achievements from high school. This includes well-written research papers or essays and any special assignments or projects. You can scan them into the computer and save them, so they’re readily available when you apply for scholarships.
Start working on recommendation letters.
It’s never too early to start gathering recommendation letters from your teacher, coach or manager if you’ve done a great job and have a good relationship with them. Think of places where you’ve volunteered, times you’ve tutored or mentored another student, or when you went over the call of duty. Ask for a recommendation while your work is fresh on the person’s mind, or jot down their name and contact information if you plan to request a reference later.
Treat your scholarship hunt like a job.
Hunt down scholarships during your downtime, just as you would a job. Job hunting takes time, and so do scholarships. Research the background of the scholarship you’re applying for (as you would a future employer) and find options that match your background. Hone your application and essay to fit your selected scholarship. Review your application and all attachments, ensuring you’ve followed all instructions. Double-check your work before you submit the application.
Don’t dismiss the small fry.
The $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000 scholarships are appealing, but everyone sees them too. This makes them highly competitive and more difficult to obtain. Search for scholarships that award smaller amounts, rather than those with large awards. They’re easier to win, and the funds can quickly add up to chunks of pocket change.
Don’t give up.
As you submit applications and essays, keep track of your progress. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t hear back from the scholarship provider right away. Continue trying, even after your scholarship is approved. Gather as many scholarships as possible, even after you win one. This process can help you win more scholarships.
Do a little bit every day.
Schedule when you’ll work on your scholarship application each day and put it on your calendar. Think of it as setting an appointment with yourself or as finding for your dream job. You don’t need to set aside hours at a time. Devoting small amounts of time can make a huge difference and prevent burnout, as long as you’re consistent. You’ll be surprised how much progress you’ve made within a month.
Attend junior college.
Complete all your prerequisites at a local community college before transferring to a larger college or university. Some colleges offer transfer scholarships for students, which can offset college costs considerably. Research the school you want to transfer to and compare their transfer benefits with your college plans. This is a great option if you don’t have a large nest egg, but still want to save with scholarships.