A Guide to Applying for Scholarships

For some students half the battle of going to an Ivy League school is paying for an Ivy League school. We are fortunate to have access to thousands of scholarships through institutions, nonprofits, government agencies, corporate sponsors, business groups, and more. And yet, according to a study from NerdScholar, around $2.9 billion dollars of grant money is left unclaimed. Many believe the reason for this is that applications are too time consuming, impacted or competitive.

On top of studying for the SAT’s, managing a rigorous academic schedule and extracurricular activities, making time to apply for scholarships may seem unbearable. The truth is applying to scholarships is much simpler than you may think. With sufficient planning and spending a few hours each week, you could save thousands of dollars in the long run.

The following is a guide to help you navigate the world of college scholarships and allow you to obtain the funds you need to accept admission into your Ivy League school of choice:

Research and Apply BEFORE Your Senior Year

One myth that many people believe is that you must be a high school senior in order to apply for college scholarships. In reality, there are countless scholarships that do not have an age requirement attached to them. Your Junior year of high school tends to be the busiest with SAT preparation and first time AP courses, therefore you should start to research and apply for available scholarships your freshman and sophomore year of high school.

Scholarship Resources

When searching for scholarships, we recommend starting with your high school career center and speaking to your high school counselors. The best thing to do is gather a list of relevant scholarships that apply to you, and organize them by their due date. Next, it would be a good idea to purchase an annual scholarship book and add those relevant scholarships to your list. The goal is cast a wide net and apply to as many applicable scholarships as you can.

  • Another great way to raise money for college is to try “untraditional” means such as me, a program that allows high school students to start generating college scholarship money based on their high school accomplishments. Since the Raise.me launched in 2014, there are over a quarter million students from 17,000 high schools who have signed up, and 150+ colleges and universities that have partnered with Raise.me, including Carnegie Melon University and University of Notre Dame.
  • Getting started is simple. As early as 9th grade, students can create a profile; add their accomplishments such as course grades, clubs, sports, volunteer activities, and more to their profile created on Rasie.me. For every achievement, you can earn scholarships from different colleges, which can then be redeemed when you attend that college. To date the average annual scholarship earned on Raise.me is $5,000. According to Arne Duncan, Former United States Secretary of Education, “More colleges should join, more guidance counselors should promote, and more students should benefit from Raise.me.”

Target High Value Scholarships, But Don’t Limit Yourself

It would be most ideal to get a full-ride scholarship based on your academic abilities or athleticism. If you are able to apply to these, then by all means do so. However, these scholarships tend to be more impacted. It is best to apply to all pertinent scholarships, both big and small. The smaller scholarships may not seem significant at the time, but if you can get multiple of these “smaller” awards, the amount can still make an impact on your college expenses.

If you’re interested in a specific field, such as health care, seek out scholarships that provide specific rewards to your area of interest. For example, the National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program awards underprivileged students up to $80,000 over the course of their college education. It is required that applicants are interested in a profession in biomedical, behavioral or social science health-related research, accept a paid 10-week training each summer after receiving the scholarship and commit one year of full-time work after graduation to the National Institute of Health. This type of scholarship may sound like an intricate commitment, but the benefits are two fold: not only does it provide financial aid, but also a potential job offer after graduation.

Prepare All Necessary Materials

Depending on the scholarship’s submission requirements, you may be required to write an essay, submit a resume and recommendation letters, test scores, or asked to tap into your creativity, for example providing a video about why you deserve the award.

Just as you would for your college application, read the prompt carefully and create an outline using concrete, unique examples of how an experience impacted you. If your scholarship application requires recommendation letters, which many of them do, you will want to seek credible individuals who can speak to your abilities. Make it easy for your recommenders to complete the task by providing them with adequate detail about the scholarship you are applying to. And don’t forget to follow up with a written thank you for their recommendation.

In some cases, you may need to participate in a phone or in-person interview. Prior to your interview, practice and prepare yourself for a variety of questions about the prompt. Be sure to arrive early, dress appropriately and practice using concise answers in a relaxed, yet polite tone.

The most important thing when applying for scholarships is to research, organize and actually apply. Many students forgo applying due to the tedious application process. Although each application will differ based on its requirements, after the first 4 or 5 applications you most likely will be able to reuse and repackage the content, making the process move along faster. Organizing your time and setting a goal to apply to 1-2 applications a week over the course of a few months or longer, can make all the difference in your college and post college experience.

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