Getting accepted into college seems to be the ordeal of every high school student, and even for the top students who are assured a spot at a safety school, the rigorous application processes for preferred dream schools can still be stressful. Regardless of which university you choose, the fact is that they all cost money, and unfortunately, university tuition seems to be in a hyperinflation zone unmatched even by rising gas prices that may make you (as well as your parents) rip out your hair in angry clumps.
Some students can count on money their parents have set aside since they were young; others can squeak by with need-based financial aid. However, for most students, even an acceptance letter is a troubling ensign of future events; it can mean a history of loans and debt for the unprepared.
Luckily, however, there are scholarships. Furthermore, there are scholarships for nearly every association, occupation, group, sorority, fraternity: any of it.
The scholarship game, however, is one that requires years of preparation; it is a pursuit that begins with freshman year of high school. From ninth grade on, you should pay careful attention to the classes, the extracurricular activities, community service, and standardized tests you become involved in. Most essentially, you should begin a resume of all academic courses you have taken, all electives you take, as well as after-school clubs and awards you receive. Actually, it’s not ever necessary to begin so early, but if you come to junior or senior year without any records, you might find it hard to remember every award you received. Luckily, most schools keep diligent records themselves to help you.
All of this may seem to be pointless accounting and bookkeeping, but the simple fact is that most scholarships, as well as the college applications themselves, hinge on very few things.
Of course, grades are important. For certain students, however, these won’t be the deciding factors as to who is awarded, because the scholarship will either have a GPA range or the committee will expect only the best and brightest to apply. Obviously, if every applicant has a 4.0 GPA, then GPA can’t be the deciding factor. Pay close attention to all scholarship guidelines and target audience, however; some are specifically targeted to students who may not have the most ideal GPAs. Test scores are important too, but don’t be discouraged by test scores and grades that are not so high. After all, if you’re too scared to apply to any scholarships, there’s no way you can win one!
The secret is that you know something that they don’t that is incredibly valuable to your goal in getting a scholarship: you know how you are unique. What can distinguish an ordinary student from a scholarship winner usually are not the GPA and SATs, but instead the unique blend of extracurricular and community service activities, essays, experiences, and outside references. These assumed soft skills proves to be mightier than the sword (or at least, mightier than the cutting effect that objectively statistics might have on your application); your essays are the best way to show yourself to your scholarship committees.
Getting a scholarship is like getting a job or getting into college in the first place. You have to sell yourself however you can. Do you speak a foreign language or can you go one step further and claim you’re from a bilingual family? Are you active in your church? Do you do community service? Play any instruments? Even though you might think that scholarship committees are only looking for the perfect GPA students, they really want dependable people. People. Can you at least prove your personhood?
Build strong alliances with the teachers and adults you deal with at church, in the community, and at school so that you have a wide range of people who can also vouch for your dynamic personality. When you write your scholarship essays, speak from the heart and not merely from what your mind assumes a committee wants to hear. Even if you think you’re utterly boring, you can never know if you have even one thing that sets you apart. Your task is to find that thing and then express it through your essays, your actions, your resume, and your teachers’ recommendations.
From there on, you shouldn’t worry. Remember to apply intelligently and assertively; seek scholarships from your high school guidance counselors, websites designed for seeking scholarships (while being wary of scams), the organizations you are involved with, or even from organizations affiliated with the university you wish to apply to, if not the university itself. Take care not to shoot yourself in the foot carelessly; make sure to check and double-check your essays (if possible, have a third party read over them as well.) Type your application whenever possible, and of course, turn in all materials promptly and according to any peculiar instructions.