Jean O’Toole is an expert when it comes to scholarships. As a professional scholarship strategist, she offers motivational tools to help students find free money for school, and her strategies work—she helped one student win $190,000 in scholarships as well as 41 seniors from one school who collectively won $5.6 million!
She’s also the author of Scholarship Strategies: Finding and Winning the Money You Need. In her book, Jean outlines the best scholarship search strategies and ways students can reduce college costs beyond scholarships and traditional financial aid.
In her first installment of Scholarship FAQs, Jean answered common questions about how to start the scholarship search. This time she’s clearing up some of the biggest scholarship myths, explaining how students can increase their chances of winning, and more. Here are the facts you need to know to make your scholarship search more successful!
What are some of the biggest scholarship myths?
The most common myth is that people think scholarships are just for the top athletes, high academic achievers, or students with the greatest financial need. There are scholarships for those students, but there are also scholarships that have nothing to do with grades, sports, or need. In fact, there’s a growing category of scholarships identified as “need-blind.” There are awards for students of all ages and all stages of life, not just for graduating high school seniors. There’s money out there for younger children, students who are currently in college, adults seeking to go back to school, and non-citizens as well. Basically, all students can and should pursue scholarships to help pay for their education.
Can I keep applying for scholarships once I’m in college?
One huge misconception a lot of students have is that the window of opportunity to apply for scholarships is over when you graduate from high school. I admit that’s what I believed; I was the first person in my family to go to college, and although I won some scholarships, I also had to sign my name to student loans. I wish I knew then what I now know, which is that every day you continue your education, you can continue to apply for and win scholarships. There are scholarships specifically for students at trade, two-year, four-year, graduate, law, and med schools. There are also scholarships only for students pursuing doctoral programs and advanced research programs. So continue to search for scholarships throughout your college career!
How can I increase my chances of winning scholarships?
Although there’s never a guarantee of winning a scholarship, you can give yourself an edge. There are three types of scholarships with a higher statistical chance of being won. First, any local scholarship given out only to students in specific towns or counties have a higher chance of being won because the applicant pool is smaller. Similarly, scholarships requiring extensive essays or projects will have fewer applicants as well. Most students skip these scholarships simply because of other time constraints from homework assignments, jobs, or family responsibilities. This gives any student who chooses to expedite those applications a significant edge and advantage. Lastly, you’ll also have a high chance of winning family member scholarships if any are available to you, as the applicant pool will be limited.
Follow-up: What are family member scholarships?
Family member scholarships are awards requiring that an applicant must be related to or be a dependent of an employee or group member. Scholarship seekers should ask their parents or legal guardians to research scholarship opportunities from their employers. If there are opportunities, there are generally fewer applicants than regional or national scholarships—and it's smart to direct your scholarship efforts to applications in which you have higher statistical odds of winning. For example:
- Walmart provides a scholarship for graduating high school seniors who are the dependent of a current Walmart employee. According to Walmart, approximately 25% of all eligible applicants will receive a scholarship.
- Bremer Bank provides $1,000–$3,000 scholarships for dependents of their employees up to age 25 who are pursuing two-year schools, vocational/technical programs, four-year undergraduate degrees, or graduate programs.
- Western Digital is committed to awarding $1 million per year in scholarships to the dependents of their employees. Their scholarships are one-time awards of up to $5,000.
Be sure to ask your parent, legal guardian, and other family members to check with their employer's human resources department to learn about any scholarship opportunities, application deadlines, and criteria.
Related: The 3 Steps to Winning Scholarships
How do I protect myself from scholarship scams?
Unfortunately, there are scammers out there trying to take advantage of young people pursuing their education. There are a few ways to protect yourself from these scams. First, beware of any company or organization guaranteeing a scholarship; no one can guarantee a scholarship, as it’s up to the student to actually win the award. Also be careful of any scholarship requiring a registration or processing fee. As a rule, you should never have to pay to apply for or receive a scholarship. If you’re asked to pay a fee, bring the scholarship to the attention of your school counselor. Lastly, be wary of any application insistent on requesting a Social Security number. Knowing these red flags can help keep your information safe.
I don’t have a lot of time to search for scholarships; what’s your advice for busy students?
All students have a limited amount of time to search for scholarships and expedite applications. You may be actively balancing academic assignments, completing college applications, and keeping up with your commitments to athletics or creative extracurricular activities. Many students also have jobs and family responsibilities. But starting and continuing your scholarship search doesn’t need to be a burden on your already full calendar. It can easily be woven into a weekly schedule in small increments of time. I recommend students focus on applying to one scholarship a week using “ready-to-go” materials such as a paper or poem from an old homework assignment, then push yourself to apply to one additional scholarship that may require a bit of extra work. By committing to expediting to two scholarships weekly, you can apply to over 100 scholarships each year.
There are tons of scholarships for every type of student out there. Find them using our Scholarship Search tool!