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5 Helpful Scholarship Tips From a Student With Zero College Debt

Did you know you could land enough scholarship money to pay for your whole education? Don't take it from us! Take it from this student who did it already.

As my college graduation nears, I think about how positively scholarships have impacted my academic career and life. During my senior year of high school, I took on the scholarship search and application process as if it were another class. I applied to over 50 scholarships and received around 10 in total. Those scholarships, combined with state and university financial aid, will allow me to complete my undergraduate degree with zero debt. I’ve always felt strongly about sharing my experience with others in hopes they can learn from both my successes and failures. Paying for higher education is a daunting and uncertain task, so I’m sharing my five biggest tips for scholarship success.

1. The more, the merrier

There are organizations all over the US that want to help students of various backgrounds, interests, and financial situations. Awards are available year-round with numerous amounts and requirements for applying. You can search by your academic interests, hobbies, and ethnic background in local, state, and national databases. Don’t be afraid to go for big and small awards alike—you never know what you might get. Awards range from broad categories for STEM programs to something as niche as scholarships for individuals above a certain height. Applying to as many opportunities that you qualify for in as many areas as possible will increase your chances of receiving a scholarship award (or multiple!).

Related: 3 Strategies to Increase Your Scholarship Eligibility

2. Track your deadlines

With the previous tip in mind, it’s important to stay organized with the scholarship application process. Applications will have varying requirements for recommendation letters and essays. I advocate for using a spreadsheet to keep track of deadlines, submission locations, organization links, progress status, and application results. Collecting this information can keep you from losing track of what you’ve accomplished and remind you to check in before deadlines roll around.

3. Persistence is key

When you apply to as many scholarships as I did, rejection becomes a familiar face. Many organizations receive hundreds if not thousands of applications, and you aren’t going to be a perfect fit for every scholarship. But this doesn’t mean you won’t land some great awards! There were $500 scholarships that denied me, while a $5,000 scholarship said I was their first choice. Rejection gives you a chance to revise essays and refine your stories for future applications. Continuing to apply and understanding that you won’t win everything allows you to be more resilient in your pursuit of success and adapt as you learn. 

Related: The 3 Easiest Steps to Winning Scholarships

4. Recycle, don’t rewrite

While everything I’ve said probably seems like a lot of work, recycling is the key to reducing the scholarship workload. Many scholarships have similar essay prompts but with differing word counts or phrasing. Don’t start from scratch for each award—establish basic, universal essays about your career goals, hobbies, and special skills. You can then modify and revise them to suit whatever scholarship you seek. This method reduces the amount of writing you have to do and allows you to spend more time on those unique essay prompts that some organizations provide.

5. Own your identity

Your individuality and vulnerability give your writing depth. Scholarship committees want to know what you’re made of and why your uniqueness matters. Show them how you fit as an ideal scholarship candidate. What drives you? What led you to your educational goals? Why do you care about your interests? What makes you unique and different from everyone else? Organizations know all the generic answers people write about to get awards, so be yourself and be honest. Own your identity and show them what you do matters.

Related: How to Make a Great First Impression to Win Scholarships 

Scholarship applications take a lot of effort between writing essays, keeping track of deadlines, asking for recommendation letters, and more. However, I can’t begin to describe the relief I feel knowing my education has been covered by generous, meaningful organizations. I’m graduating with a BS in Bioengineering from Clemson University and will soon be pursuing my master’s in Biomedical Engineering, but I would not be where I am today without the scholarships and grants I received. I can say without a doubt applying for awards could quite literally payoff entirely in the long run. 

Hoping to graduate debt-free like Samantha? Start finding money to fully finance your higher education using our Scholarship Search tool!

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About Samantha Leach

Samantha Leach

Samantha Leach is currently a junior at Clemson University, where she was able to pay 100% of her college tuition with scholarships and grants. She also plans to fund her grad school education at Clemson, in part, with scholarships. Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, Sam is a recipient of the Claes Nobel Academic Scholarship, awarded by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS). 


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