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3 Common Obstacles to a Successful Scholarship Search

Deserving students miss out on a lot of money each year because of three common obstacles in the scholarship search process. Here's how to overcome them!

With thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships available each year from companies, organizations, individuals, and foundations, why aren’t more students actively pursuing these opportunities? When surveyed and researched, students respond predominantly with one of three reasons. It’s essential that each of these three reasons are brought to light, discussed, and addressed. A successful scholarship pursuit can be achieved more easily with the understanding and debunking of these misconceptions.

The “I don’t have time” problem

Scholarship applications for private sources like companies and organizations may require some time to expedite, but rarely do they require a substantial amount of time and effort. A scholarship committee from a company or organization isn’t made up of academics like at a school. They’re professionals who are seeking the best candidate to be the recipient. They’re generally not interested in reading multi-page essays or papers. In fact, many private scholarships specifically request a very small amount of writing such as essays of 1,000 words or fewer. These submissions require only a small fraction of the amount of writing that a typical student is assigned from their teachers or professors.

A great time-saving tool is to utilize your ready-to-go-materials. Ready-to-go-materials include papers, projects, essays, or poems you’ve written in the past. Your time was already spent on those assignments—and every scholarship you pursue doesn’t have to relate or connect to your future goals. An essay written about the Civil War could be used for a scholarship related to US history; an original poem from a past English class might be used for a scholarship related to poetry. A student who’s awarded scholarship monies from these potential opportunities could be pursuing finance, engineering, or music. Ready-to-go-materials can be maximized to expedite more scholarship applications without requiring a significant amount of time from the scholarship-seeking student, so that excuse is justifiable no more.

Related: Scholarships: Quick Tips, Tricks, and Why They Matter

The “I’m not going to win, so why bother” mentality

Students have a strong misconception that everyone is applying for the same scholarships. Many believe their chances of winning an award is a long shot. Yes, there are some scholarships where, due to the popularity of the award, the statistical odds are stacked against students—but many of those scholarships are sweepstakes, which are absolutely a long shot. However, most private, lesser-known scholarships aren’t sweepstakes. Scholarship committees consistently express disappointment in the number of applications they receive for their awards. Local awards for high school seniors are only applied to by around 15% of a graduating class. Someone will receive the scholarship—and you can’t win if you don’t get in the game.

The “My parents make too much money” misconception

Scholarships aren’t all based on the financial need of a family. In fact, financial need is only one of many potential eligibility criteria that a scholarship committee might indicate as a requirement. A growing category of private scholarships are need-blind scholarships. Their decision-makers specify in the award descriptions that the financial need of a student’s family will not be a consideration. They may instead place importance on merit, community service, or any other potential criteria. If you fit the description and requirements of a scholarship, there’s no reason not to apply. 

Related: 3 Scholarship Search Mistakes Students Should Avoid

Private scholarships from companies, organizations, individuals, and foundations will continue to be awarded—whether you apply for them or not. By recognizing the reality of the scholarship process, students can remove these most common obstacles on their way to a successful search.

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About Jean O'Toole

Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book Scholarship Strategies: Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying Jean’s scholarship strategies. In 2008, Jean co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. Visit for more information, and follow Jean on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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