Getting a jump-start on the scholarship search can help a student qualify for more opportunities in the future and open the door to massive college cost savings for their family. After working with hundreds of schools and thousands of students over the past decade, I have found these to be the three easiest steps anyone can take to give themselves an edge and advantage to becoming a successful scholarship recipient.
1. Learn about local scholarships
Most school districts have a “senior awards night” or some other kind of annual event where scholarships from local companies, organizations, and individuals are awarded to graduating high school seniors. Contact your high school counselor’s office and request to be emailed the program from last year’s event. This will give you a list of all the local awards that were given away. As these scholarships are only open to local students, you’ll have fewer competitors and a statistically higher chance of winning. Although many local scholarships may be smaller amounts, you can accumulate these awards into thousands of dollars, so it’s definitely worth applying.
Related: The Ultimate Scholarship Guide: Searching for Scholarships
2. Find out who won last year and why
Most companies and organizations that offer scholarships will post on their websites who their recent scholarship recipients have been and why they were chosen. Many also post the winner’s submission if creative work or an essay is required. You can also gather this information from your school counselor or online community forums and keep it in mind as you're applying. You don’t want to copy what last year’s recipient did, of course, but finding out what’s impressed the scholarship committee in the past can give you insight into what they value and may even improve your applications in case you’re not on the right track.
3. Find out who the decision makers are for each scholarship
Some local scholarship recipients are chosen by a faculty member or members of a school, whereas other scholarships may have their own committees to review applicants. Find out who the decision makers are for each of the local scholarships, then reach out to that decision maker with two goals in mind. First, you should thank the decision maker for their efforts in making scholarships available for local students; second, you should ask what they’re looking for in an ideal candidate. Asking this simple question will already define you as motivated, determined, and driven—which makes for an incredible first impression.
Think about it like a job search
Professionally, people are encouraged to research and prepare to be the ideal candidate for an internship or job. You can give yourself an advantage by taking a similar approach to the scholarship search. By learning in advance what scholarships are available and what the criteria is for the opportunity, you can strategically direct your limited time and energy outside of the classroom to qualify for as many scholarship opportunities as possible.
Related: How to Apply for Scholarships the Right Way
With the student loan debt crisis in the United States having reached over $1.5 trillion (surpassing US credit card debt), it’s important that families are empowered to take a proactive approach to finding scholarships from companies, organizations, individuals, and foundations. Every student should start their money mission as early as possible. Use any free time you have plus these three strategies to give yourself an edge to success in your scholarship pursuits.
Start searching for scholarships you’re qualified for using our Scholarship Search tool!