White hands holding square pages that say Right Way in green & Wrong Way in red

6 Student Tips to Help You Apply for Scholarships the Right Way

Applying for scholarships can be monotonous, we know. But with these tips, you can get on the right track to winning more money for college in no time.

As a senior applying for college scholarships, I know it can be difficult to muster up the motivation to write essays and fill out form after form of monotonous information that always seems to be slightly different than the one before. Scholarship applications have the unfortunate tendency to ask repetitive questions, and it’s easy to get frustrated and be tempted to call it quits. But it's important to remember that although the reward is not immediate, being awarded a scholarship can make the difference in attending your first- or second-choice school. Here’s a list of what I consider to be the most important and relevant advice concerning scholarships and how to tackle the process the right way.

1. Start applying for scholarships early

I began filling out a few scholarship applications during my junior year of high school, but I didn’t get serious about it until my senior year. Even as a junior, with graduation only a couple of years away, it’s hard to realize you’ll need money soon. When graduation feels so distant, scholarship applications tend to be relegated to the back burner in favor of homework, extracurricular activities, and doing whatever you can to raise your GPA by one-10th of a point.

Once I finally got to my senior year, graduation seemed just around the corner—taunting and inevitable—and it became glaringly obvious that if I wanted to go to a private school, I was going to need more money. I will say the scholarship process does become slightly easier during your senior year: Your friends have also realized they need money (so you can complain about it together), you may have fewer classes to keep up with, and more scholarships are available to graduating seniors than to juniors and high school underclassmen. Even so, don’t fall into the trap of waiting until the last minute. Every deadline missed is money wasted. There are scholarships available to you as early as your first year of high school, so set a realistic goal for yourself—maybe one scholarship a week—and above all, start now.

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

2. Only apply for scholarships you qualify for

Regardless of when you start your scholarship search, don’t waste your time and energy applying for scholarships that do not apply to you. Always read the requirements carefully; they are usually in a clear bulleted list. Using a customizable app like Scholly or ScholarshipOwl will make this step infinitely easier by filtering out inapplicable scholarships. Applying for a scholarship that you have no chance of receiving is an exercise in frustration, and it will only serve to discourage you further from applying to scholarships that you can actually win!

3. Ask your school counselor about local scholarships

At my high school, we had a giant three-ring binder full of local scholarships that was kept in our grade counselor’s office. Things may be done differently at other schools, but always look for scholarships that are offered exclusively in your hometown or area. Your school counselor is an excellent resource for you to consult about what local options are available to you. Local scholarships are particularly great because the competition won’t be as fierce—there will be fewer students who meet the geographic requirements. Additionally, if the scholarship is local, you're more likely to know someone on the scholarship committee, and it can be very valuable when a decision-maker can personally vouch for your character.

Related: How to Work With Your High School Counselor on the Scholarship Search

4. Apply for all the institutional scholarships you can

This is especially relevant for students who want to attend private schools. Always, always, always apply for scholarships exclusive to the colleges and universities to which you apply. It can seem like a hassle, but you might be surprised by how much money some schools are willing to offer for the chance of attracting your interest. Another tip is to sign up for admission interviews if possible. Doing so will make you stand out not only for admission purposes but for institutional scholarships as well. You will have spoken to an administrator with influence, and making a good impression can take you far. When I signed up for an interview with Southwestern University, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I went and spoke with an admission counselor anyway. We talked for around 30­–40 minutes, and it was very conversational and low pressure. Above all, don’t act like someone you’re not, make eye contact, and you will be memorable.

5. Always save copies of previous essays

A piece of good news: Scholarship application essays do get easier—not only because you have practiced, but because you can use saved copies of previous essays over and over. While this may not work with every scholarship essay, most prompts are similar enough that with a bit of tweaking, you may never have to rewrite an entire essay. This might make the essay prompts seem even more repetitive than they actually are, but just keep in mind that you could be writing an entirely new essay! I personally keep all of my scholarship essays in a separate folder in Google Docs for easy access, and it has served me well so far.

6. Make and update a spreadsheet of your progress

There are few things more stressful than realizing a scholarship is due the next day, and you still have to write two essays, request a transcript, and dig out three letters of recommendation before the deadline. Make a simple timeline to keep yourself organized, especially if organization doesn’t come naturally to you. My scholarship spreadsheet has columns for the scholarship name, my application status, the amount of money awarded, the due date, and the notification date. Just keeping a table current can help you prioritize and focus on how much money you have applied for, how much you have received, and how much you still have to go.

Related: How to Digitize and Organize Important College and Scholarship Documents

Bonus tip: Don’t give up!

When you’re swamped with schoolwork, family, and college preparation, you can easily get frustrated with scholarships. This is especially true if it’s your senior year and senioritis (a very real thing) is setting in. Even so, remember just how little effort that essay will feel like on the other side of $5,000. Good luck!

Find millions of scholarship opportunities to help you pay for college with our Scholarship Search tool.  

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Kay Teekell

Kay Teekell is an English major at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. She enjoys art of all kinds and always has a book by her side. She hopes to enter the book publishing industry after graduation.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Sarah Armstrong

Sarah Armstrong

High School Class of 2022

I am a deaf student, and I had always dreamed of going to Gallaudet University. CollegeXpress helped me search though other qualified universities. They helped me know for sure that Gallaudet University was the right choice for me!

Yuhlani Patterson

Yuhlani Patterson

High School Student

CollegeXpress has helped me find so many scholarships that fit me. They match me to colleges I have specific interest in to make searching for colleges way easier and more efficient. CollegeXpress refers me to schools that have my major of interest and backup schools if I want to change my mind. CollegeXpress also gives out their own scholarships, so you have even more of a chance at gaining multiple scholarships. This website has helped me de-stress from the pressure of not being able to afford college, [of finding] what schools are right for me, and how to find easy access to scholarships that most people never knew existed.

Fabiola Rodriguez

Fabiola Rodriguez

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me on my journey to get to the school of my first choice by showing me all the options I have. I didn’t know of the College of Southern Nevada until I went on this website, and it helped me look for other choices and compare what colleges would be right for me.

Alexandra Adriano

Alexandra Adriano

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2016

I've used CollegeXpress quite a bit as a senior, particularly for colleges and scholarships, so it's been a very big asset in that respect! I would recommend it to anyone looking to pursue a college education, especially seniors! This scholarship will help me achieve my goals in ways I couldn't have before, and I know that there are opportunities like that for everyone on the website and in the magazines!

Emilie Delgado

Emilie Delgado

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2013

CollegeXpress has tremendously helped me in my search for financial aid opportunities as I enter my college career. It is easy to navigate and quickly narrowed down scholarships that I could apply for. Being awarded the scholarship will greatly help me in my finances regarding books and tuition. Thank you for this opportunity. Without CollegeXpress, it would have been more difficult to apply. I would recommend this site to everyone!

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Malone University

Canton, OH

High Point University

High Point, NC