With tuition on the rise nearly everywhere and the global economy still stuck in the mud, many students are turning to scholarships to help cover college costs. And really, who wouldn’t want free money?
But, how do you actually get your hands on this free money? Keep reading for our 10 tips on how to improve your chances of getting a great scholarship.
1. Earn good grades in high school.
You don’t need a 4.0 to get a scholarship, but decent grades sure help. If it’s between you and an equally-qualified finalist, your grades can give you the edge you need. So, put your best effort into your high school classes.
2. Volunteer locally.
Scholarship committees love students who are active in their communities. Pick a cause you care about and invest your time into it. This will help build your resume, too.
3. Talk to your guidance counselor.
Some scholarship committees send information and application forms straight to high schools. Ask your guidance counselor what’s on file.
As a bonus, the more you build your relationship with your guidance counselor, the more likely they are to write you a letter of recommendation if a scholarship requires one.
4. Contact the colleges you’re thinking about attending.
If you already have a list of colleges you plan to apply to, contact them and ask what kinds of institutional scholarships they offer. If you get accepted into a few of your top choices, the availability of scholarships and aid at each could help you narrow it down.
5. Use free scholarship search engines.
There are plenty of free scholarship search engines online, so pick a few and set up a profile on each. One good option is the College Board’s Scholarship Search. A completed profile on this and other search engines helps you find the scholarships that are right for you.
6. Give local scholarships a chance.
Ask local businesses and organizations about scholarships for students in the community. Local scholarships aren’t as competitive as national ones because there are fewer applicants. See if your parents can ask their employers about this, since some companies have scholarships available for children of employees.
7. Apply for small scholarships, too.
Some students don’t bother with scholarships that offer fairly small amounts of money, like $100. Well, think of it this way: if you spend an hour getting the application materials together and an hour writing an essay, then you win the scholarship, you just made $50 per hour. Trust me, you’ll be glad to have it when you see how much your college textbooks cost!
8. Don’t apply to scholarships for which you aren’t qualified.
It sounds obvious, but some students just apply to lots of scholarships and hope they get lucky. It’s much better to find a few scholarships that are a good fit for you and put your best effort into applying for those.
9. If you need letters of recommendation, ask early.
Many scholarships ask for letters of recommendation from people who know you well, and not always academically. Once you decide who you want to write a letter of recommendation for you, ask them as early as you can. Think of one month’s notice as the minimum. Show them the scholarship criteria and provide your resume. If they agree to do it, send them a handwritten thank you note.
10. Get a head start.
You should start researching scholarships during your junior year of high school and applying to them at the start of your senior year. It takes time to get a quality application together; rushing to meet scholarship deadlines will only make your senior year more stressful. Starting now could save you time and money later.
Now that you know how to improve your chances of getting a great scholarship, you’ll be better prepared to tackle those applications. Remember, you don’t have to be a straight A student to earn a scholarship. There are scholarships that are right for you out there. You just need to find them, put together the best applications you can, and hope for the best.
Daniela Baker from CreditDonkey contributed this article. She reminds you that you shouldn’t have to pay money to look for or get a scholarship. Never give your student credit card number or your parents’ credit card number to anyone who claims they need it to “hold a scholarship” for you.