Flat line hand dropping coin into piggy bank with grad cap, books, laptop, globe

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 Easy 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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High School Class of 2019

My college search began at CollegeXpress. Due to this helpful tool, I was able to gather a lot of information to guide my college planning decisions. Through CollegeXpress, I was also able to apply to several scholarships to help pay for my tuition. I would definitely recommend this website to anyone who wants to explore colleges and get more information from admission experts, counselors, and real students.

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!

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Laura Wallace

High School Class of 2019

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Sonny Harris

Sonny Harris

College Student

For the entire year before college, I spent a lot of time deeply considering what major I wanted to go into and how to fund my higher education. After a lot of research, I came across CollegeXpress, which helped me ultimately find a ton of scholarships for which I could apply—and some of which I received! If it weren’t for CollegeXpress, I may not have found those scholarships as they didn't appear on any other scholarship search forum. Additionally, I learned more about the options I had been considering for my major through CollegeXpress’s resources. In the end, I chose to major in Computer Science, as it seemed best suited to me and the careers in the field seemed enjoyable, and I've never been more excited to move into my future! Ultimately, I want to thank CollegeXpress for offering their services. I received enough financial aid in scholarships to fund my entire freshman year of college and even got some money refunded which I used to purchase a new laptop, and I bought all of the books I needed for the semester!

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