Scholarships are terrific opportunities for students to get assistance funding their college educations. Many organizations set aside generous amounts of money with the intention of helping hopeful students pursue their educational dreams and career aspirations.
However with this opportunity comes responsibility. It is important for scholarship applicants to understand that scholarships are very competitive and the odds of being awarded a scholarship may vary depending on the type of scholarship and how competitive the award is.
Due to the fact many scholarships are so competitive it is important to understand how to successfully prepare a scholarship application prior to applying. Students who want to stand out amongst the applications and increase their chances of receiving an award should pay close attention to the types of scholarships they are applying for and then follow the organization’s instructions carefully.
• Find Scholarships
The first step is to find scholarships, and and a quick Internet search will yield thousands of scholarship opportunities, however this way of searching is not always the best way to go. It is essential to try and focus on scholarship opportunities that you might actually have a chance of winning as the application process can be time consuming and involves a lot of work. Ideally efforts should be focused on opportunities which one is best suited for and matches the organization’s criteria.
Finding the right scholarships can be pretty time consuming, but well worth the effort as it ensures efforts are spent on the right types of applications. High school students can start off with their guidance or career counselor in school who can provide good direction where to start; adult students can check with in with a financial aid counselor at their college.
Other resources are online scholarship search engines. There are several good websites which provide free resources which can help students match with the right scholarship opportunity. Fastweb and CollegeNet are two good search engines students can utilize in order to locate scholarship opportunities.
There are other good search engines the web, however it is important to be careful with who you list or share personal information with; do not pay for any scholarship search and only select reputable search engines. Unfortunately there are many scholarship scams on the web that are designed to steal personal information or cheat students out of money for services that can be gotten for free.
• Follow Application Directions
It is important to follow the organization’s directions for the application to the letter, this cannot be emphasized enough. Many scholarship applications are precise in nature and applicants should read the directions carefully to ensure directives are fully understood prior to putting the application package together. It helps to create a checklist and then mark off each stipulation and as you collect information to include in the application.
• Fill Out Application
Scholarship applications should be error-free, grammatically correct and all application boxes filled in with an eye for accuracy. Do not leave any blank spaces, unanswered questions and be sure to proof read the entire package once it is finished. If possible, have someone else give a look-over and/or read the information back to you to ensure everything is correct and in order. If any mistakes are made, this can immediately put your application at an immediate disadvantage and/or disqualification.
• Well Written Essay
This is not a given, but many scholarship applications require a written essay to be included along with the application. If the topic is precise, be sure to address the criteria exactly and thoroughly answer what is being requested. Be concise and to the point, but offer adequate detail to address the topic provided. For ‘hot’ topics, remember to choose words carefully, if the subject is one that tends to be volatile in nature, this can come off as judgmental or offensive; be diplomatic and demonstrate a good level of critical thinking.
Some essay requests are more flexible in nature, and many ask applicants to write about themselves. This can be harder than it sounds because many people find once they sit down to write about themselves, it is hard. The trick is to balance modesty with self-praise. As challenging as it can be, this type of essay is a good opportunity to make yourself shine.
• Reference Letters
Many scholarships will request reference letters to accompany the application. If these are asked for, be sure to have the letters ready to be included at the time the application is filed. Do remember to give the person(s) you intend to ask for recommendation letters plenty of notice before the application due date arrives. It is considered bad form to ask for a ‘rush’ letter if it can be avoided.
• Include a Cover Letter
Even if a scholarship application does not require a cover letter, it is a good idea to include a well-written cover letter. The letter is a nice augment to your application and a way to present yourself in a good light, and it might just make the difference in terms of competition if all other things are considered equal. The letter should be professionally written, avoid bragging or including a sob story of why money is needed for college. The letter should be clear, concise and share a bit of information about yourself and future goals. Always remember to thank the organization for the opportunity to apply for their scholarship.
Once the application package is pulled together, seal the envelop and be sure to include enough postage and get it out for delivery as soon as possible, but at the very least, before the due date. Most organizations are very firm on their application due dates.
If you are lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship, always remember to thank the organization, person or committee sponsoring the scholarship. It is not only good etiquette but reinforces the selecting individuals made a good choice by awarding a student who is a professional.