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Top 3 Scholarship Search Mistakes Students Should Avoid

Students are often eligible for many more scholarships than they initially think. Here are three mistakes you can avoid to find and win more money for college.

The scholarship search process can be frustrating for many students and parents. As a scholarship consultant, I have many families that reach out to me because they can’t find scholarships that are right for them. The pursuit of scholarships from different companies, organizations, and foundations can be overwhelming with everything that’s out there. With so many opportunities, it’s difficult to know how to navigate the search process to find scholarships that align with your past accomplishments and future goals. There are three common mistakes students make when looking at eligibility descriptions for scholarships. Avoiding these mistakes can expand the potential awards that you qualify for exponentially.

Mistake #1: Limiting your search to your specific career goals

Searching for scholarships that relate to your career field of interest or chosen academic major is an absolute must, but most students make the mistake of not expanding their search beyond this. It’s a common mistake to search with only career goals in mind—that is, after all, the end goal. But students should look at the larger picture of their career goals. For example, a student majoring in Nursing should pursue scholarships related to nursing as well as health care in general—health care scholarships are a whole other category of scholarships from nursing scholarships. On the other hand, a student pursuing a degree in Finance should apply for scholarships in finance as well as business, and potentially even entrepreneurship, management, and commerce. A student majoring in Advertising can apply for advertising-related scholarships as well as marketing, business, graphic design, and social media management. For your major of interest, ask yourself, “Does my career goal fit into larger fields?” If so, expand your search and expedite more scholarship applications.

Related: The Best Scholarship Search Sites, Books, and More

Mistake #2: Making assumptions about a scholarship based on the title

When scanning scholarship posts, alerts, and sites, it’s common for students to quickly identify scholarships they think they should apply to. Many students make the costly mistake of skipping opportunities because they assume a scholarship isn’t a good fit for them based on the title alone. For example, the AES Engineering Scholarship is open to students of all fields of study. Many students may skip over this scholarship because they assume it’s only for students pursuing engineering. The Web Design Scholarship from Lounge Lizard is a similar example; submitting a web design file is a required component to apply for this $1,000 award, but majoring in Web Design is not. Long story short: Always look at the eligibility information to be fully informed about a scholarship opportunity—you could qualify for a lot more than you think.

Mistake #3: Not looking beyond your immediate year of education

While searching for scholarships, students and their parents are typically focused on reducing the most immediate college expenses. Of course, you want to cut your college costs for the upcoming academic semester, but don’t miss the opportunity to reduce your future costs as well. Many private scholarships from companies and organizations will state that their awards are for both high school students planning to enroll and current college students. Those opportunities are therefore open to high schoolers as well as college students enrolled in two-year and four-year undergraduate and graduate programs. Often students think the scholarship search ends once they’re in college, but you can (and should) continue searching all the way to graduation. Additionally, many students at advanced levels of education miss possible scholarship money because they also assume scholarships are only for undergraduate students. Don’t make this mistake!

Related: Scholarship FAQ: The Biggest Myths and Facts

Most viable scholarships will include links to their eligibility requirements. Take a few minutes to review specific eligibility requirements for any scholarship you find, as it could potentially add more opportunities to your list of applications to expedite—and more money in your college fund. Avoid making assumptions about eligibility and improve your chances to win more scholarships that are right for you.

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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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