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3 Questions to Ask as You Look for Scholarships

Wait! Before you start applying to scholarships, make sure you ask yourself these three important questions to guide your scholarship search and application process.

There are usually three approaches to scholarship searching that most students follow: 1) searching extensively online for scholarships that align with future professional goals; 2) applying for a few scholarships in hopes to be chosen as the recipient; or 3) not bothering to pursue scholarships at all because it feels like a waste of time and energy. Sound familiar? Hoping to just find and win scholarships is not a strategic approach to the process. There are smart ways to use your limited amount of free time and energy to pursue private scholarships from companies, organizations, individuals, and foundations, starting with asking these three important questions.

1. Who’s already accomplished what I’m trying to do?

First off, identify who has completed scholarship research already—basically any former student you know who went off to college having successfully searched for and won money to pay for it. As most awards are offered annually, save time looking for scholarships by connecting with students who’ve already done it. For example, alumni from your high school or university who received scholarships while they were students would be an excellent resource for information. And they have no reason not to share what they know with you, as they’re no longer competing for the scholarships you’re looking into.

Additionally, many scholarship committees will post the names of the recipients who won in the past. Reach out to former scholarship winners using social media and ask if they have other recommendations for scholarships to apply to. By leaning on the time and energy spent by others in the past, you can spend more time completing scholarship applications.

Related: The 3 Easiest Steps to Winning Scholarships

2. Why should someone choose me as the award recipient?

Private scholarships from companies and organizations are often looking to honor and award students who seek to impact the world around them through their future career or service. Think about how you plan on impacting the world around you when you’re finished with your undergraduate or graduate education, then share that vision with the people giving the award. Committee members want to be sure that their own efforts in organizing and awarding the scholarship are time well spent. Include a two-to-three sentence “why you?” statement in every application you send in that speaks to the future impact you plan to have on others and in the world—and how their scholarship will help you achieve it.

3. What has helped students win in the past?

If a scholarship application requires an essay, poem, or project as part of the application materials, try to find the previous year’s recipient’s essay, poem, or project. Many scholarship committees will publish the work of the award recipient to showcase why they chose that student as the winner. Reviewing what made the winner stand out can inform how you’ll approach the essay, poem, or project. This is an excellent strategy to learn more about the scholarship committee and the award they’re offering.

Related: Ultimate Scholarships Guide: How to Apply and Win

By asking these three simple questions, you can save an enormous amount of time searching for scholarships while also learning how to submit the best possible application for consideration. Good luck!

Find more scholarships that you’re eligible for right here on CollegeXpress using our Scholarship Search tool.

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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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