How to Get and Stay Motivated in the Scholarship Search

The scholarship search is meant to be continuous, but many students quit before they've hardly even begun. Here's how to get and stay motivated in the process.

Starting the scholarship search is easy—it’s continuing the pursuit that can become difficult. Over the years, I’ve given hundreds of presentations about searching and applying for scholarships. After outlining to audiences why they should pursue scholarships and how to win them, they often begin with enormous excitement and enthusiasm. However, the key to their success is what happens long after the presentation is over. The secret to a successful scholarship pursuit is not in starting but continuing. It’s a long process, and playing the long game takes commitment and persistence. Many parents reach out to us with the question, “How do I motivate my kid to actually do this?” The answer is in how you approach the game. 

Slow and steady wins the race

Pursuing private scholarships is a marathon, not a sprint. After applying to a scholarship, recipients generally aren’t announced for at least six weeks—some may not be announced for several months. When we don’t get instant gratification, we question why we should continue with an action. Unfortunately, this is a major reason why so many people quit the scholarship process. What if this perspective was changed? What if the scholarship pursuit was framed as a long game immediately when a student starts? A marathon runner knows they’ll be running a marathon—they don’t stop after the first mile.

Related: 3 FAQs About Timing in Your Scholarship Search Process

Planning for the long game

Applying to two scholarships a week by blocking time and creating a routine is a smart move for any student. Continuing with this routine throughout the year yields over 100 expedited scholarship applications. Small amounts of energy and time committed to continuing this pursuit for the long term can yield over 500 scholarship applications for one student between senior year of high school and the completion of a four-year degree! Will this increase the probability of scholarship success? Absolutely. There are no guarantees in a scholarship search, but increasing probability is possible on many levels.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting every student must apply to two scholarships every week. However, I do encourage every student and parent to plan for the long term. Ask yourself: What could I accomplish if I think of the scholarship search as a marathon over months, semester, years, or even multiple degrees? What possibility could be opened?

Related: 3 Smart and Easy Strategies to Win More Scholarships

Scholarship strategies to employ

Other strategies to increase long-term engagement and motivation in the scholarship search process include:

  • Asking the counselor department at your high school what percentage of the previous year’s senior class applied for local scholarship opportunities. On average, only 10%–20% of senior classes will actually apply. Learning that data can help motivate scholarship seekers to stay engaged.
  • Looking for previous year data of applications and awards submitted from scholarship committees. Not all scholarships will post this information, but those that do offer clear windows into the low percentage of students throughout the US who are engaged in the process.
  • Reach out to scholarship committees and inquire how many applications they received in the past several years for their awards. This will give you an idea of your odds of winning, which can be more encouraging than starting an application blindly.

Related: How to Expand Your Reach and Find Scholarships in Hidden Places

Choice is the most powerful thing we own. Choose the perspective that’ll work with your goal to keep you engaged, motivated, and committed for the long run. To win scholarships, you must start and stay in the game. As author Jim Watkins once said, “A river cuts through rock not because of its power but because of its persistence.”

Get in the long game of the scholarship pursuit today with our Scholarship Search tool.

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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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