Written by Scribendi
You're in the thick of it now. You've spent months researching colleges and universities, filling out applications, and eagerly awaiting a response. This morning, you opened your mailbox to find a large, official-looking envelope. Inside is an offer of admission to your dream school, be it Hogwarts or Harvard. Congratulations! You are officially a post-secondary student.
Now, how are you going to pay for your tuition?
You could try to cover it all with your minimum wage paychecks or take out a student loan that you will inevitably spend the next 10 years paying back. Or, better yet, you could go scholarship hunting!
Scholarships are essentially free money that organizations offer to students seeking post-secondary education, and, unlike student loans, you don't have to pay them back! Sounds like a great deal, right? So, then, why do so few students actually apply for scholarships?
In a CBC interview last spring, financial expert Lesley-Anne Scorgie stated that students leave millions of scholarship dollars unclaimed every year.
"We are finding…that students believe…that the application process is arduous, or [that] they need to have very high marks, or [that] they need to be in a financially precarious position."
According to Scorgie, however, only one-third of available scholarships have these requirements.
"The other two-thirds of scholarships are up for grabs[,] and that's where the millions of dollars are really sitting."
If you know how to find scholarships as well as how to apply for scholarships, it's easy to gain thousands of dollars in awards. While this information might not be common knowledge, we at Scribendi are here to help you properly plan your scholarship hunt so you can learn how to get a scholarship!
How to Find Scholarships
When looking for scholarships, it helps to first know what types of scholarships exist.
One of the "easiest" types of scholarships for students to claim is an entrance scholarship. Post-secondary institutions automatically offer these at the beginning of the semester based on their applicants' high school grades. The higher your marks, the greater the amount of money a school might offer you. There is no application process for entrance scholarships, but it's a good idea to check whether the school you're applying to offers them, either by looking on the school's website or speaking to your guidance counselor.
The most common type of scholarship, however, is a merit-based scholarship. Students receive this type of scholarship by meeting or exceeding the criteria set by the scholarship provider. While merit scholarships are traditionally academic, they can also be awarded for skills or interests. Before you set out on your search, write a list of your achievements, talents, and hobbies. Include your GPA, clubs you've joined, sports you've played (including eSports), any volunteer or activism work you've done, as well as where you want to go to school and what you want to study (and why!).
Just as there are several different scholarship types out there, there are several different places to find them. Start by talking to your guidance counselor if you're still in high school or the financial aid office if you're already in college or university; after all, it's their job to help you find scholarships. They might direct you to your library's reference section, federal grant agencies, or organizations in your field of interest.
Some scholarships are offered based on students' backgrounds. For example, certain community and/or nonprofit organizations will offer scholarships exclusively to students who identify as women or belong to a particular religious group. Meanwhile, private organizations often offer scholarships to students who are from less financially stable families or minority communities. For example, the Gates Scholarship is offered to students in the top 10% of their class who are from a racial minority group, and the Cooke College Scholarship Program is offered to low-income students who are the first in their families to attend post-secondary schools.
Other great sources of background-based scholarships are your parents' employers. Some scholarships are offered only to students whose parents have a specific occupation, such as a position in the military. In addition, certain post-secondary institutions offer free tuition for their employees' children, so keep that in mind when applying to schools. You should also research whether any scholarships are available from your own job, as some businesses offer partial or full tuition coverage for employees who are simultaneously working and pursuing a degree—this is a great option for mature students!
The most obvious place to find scholarships, however, is online. Several websites are dedicated to helping students find scholarships that are tailored to fit their skills and interests (e.g., BrokeScholar, Chegg Scholarships, and JLV College Counseling). After you customize your profile, these sites automatically match you to awards. It's a good idea to make a separate email account for these sites, however, so that your main inbox doesn't flood with junk mail.
No matter what method you use, remember to make sure that the scholarship is legitimate. You shouldn't have to pay to apply for free money.
How to Apply for Scholarships
While scholarship deadlines tend to fall between the beginning of March and the end of May, you should start your application long before then. Many professionals suggest that students should first hunt for scholarships in grades 10 or 11. You won't be able to apply at this time, but if you see one that you're interested in that has specific criteria (e.g., completing a certain number of community service hours), you will have plenty of time to meet the requirements. Realistically, you should at least start searching and applying in the fall of your final year of high school. Be sure to track your deadlines, as late applications will be rejected.
There is no easy way to explain how to apply for scholarships because each scholarship has its own requirements. According to Monica Matthews, author of How to Win College Scholarships,
"[B]ecause so many kids are applying for different scholarships, some are [applying] through tweets, or they can write an essay . . . or they can upload a video [to apply]."
Make sure that you read the guidelines carefully. You may need to create a portfolio that presents samples of your work, reference letters from teachers or coaches, essays, and/or transcripts. You should also make sure that you are actually eligible for the awards; otherwise, you're just wasting your own time. If you're unsure, contact the scholarship administrator.
A minimum of three hours per week should be dedicated to finding and applying for scholarships. It sounds time-consuming (it is!), but taking the time to apply for scholarships gives you a better chance of earning more money in an hour than you might make in three months at your part-time job. It's well worth the effort, and it will certainly seem so once it comes time to pay off those dreaded student loans—believe it!
A good way to increase your chances of getting scholarships is to apply for several small awards. Large scholarships are incredibly competitive. More money means that more people are going to put time into applying for them, leaving the smaller prizes unattended. It's more likely that you'll win five $1,000 scholarships than one $10,000 one, so remember to strategize as you search.
Traditionally, most scholarships involve writing an essay about yourself. Scholarship Shark founder Pam Andrews suggests that you write at least one good essay for your application process that you can tweak to fit each scholarship:
"Start by writing a profile about yourself, so when you need to write about [yourself] and what [you plan to] major in, then you have a template to guide your writing."
In the same vein, some scholarships will need you to write a letter to the administrator to introduce yourself or receive more information. Create a list of activities that you've led or been involved in. These might include awards, clubs, sports, projects, co-op placements, part-time jobs, scholastic achievements, international exchanges, and volunteer work. In your letter, list at least one skill or quality you earned through these experiences and discuss how it helped with your personal growth. Don't exaggerate. Just like in a cover letter for a job, honesty is key here.
For helpful tips on writing your essay, check out our blog post How to Write a Scholarship Essay. Don't forget to edit and proofread your essay and letter before sending them out! Your editor will help you stand out by focusing the reviewer's attention on what matters most—you! Get a competitive edge with your application and make your essay bulletproof.
How to Get a Scholarship
You'll have to make sure that your submission stands out from the stack of other applications piling up on the scholarship administrator’s desk.
Here are our best tips for standing out from the crowd:
Follow the rules. If you don't qualify for a scholarship in the first place, don't bother applying! In addition, if there are word count guidelines for the essay you are writing, a prompt you must answer, or formatting requirements, you must follow them exactly; otherwise, your essay will likely be thrown into the garbage. Be sure to follow the guidelines if you want your application to be considered seriously.
Be as personal as possible. Focus on highlighting your personal experiences—the ones that are so unique that they could have only happened to you. Show your energy and passion, and be sure to mention your recent and professional achievements and the challenges you've overcome.
Polish your essay to perfection. Put your best foot forward with a perfectly polished submission. If you're not showing your best self with flawless writing, then what's the point? Be sure to present yourself as a professional applicant who cares about their application by submitting an essay that shines. Consider submitting your essay for professional editing and proofreading to ensure that it really steals the show.
And that's it! Now that you know these three steps, you'll never wonder again how to get a scholarship.
Conclusion: Don't Stop Applying!
So, now that you've won your awards and paid off your first year's tuition, you shouldn't have to look for any more scholarships, right?
Well, no. Actually, this should only be the beginning of your hunt. You should continue searching and applying for scholarships throughout the course of your post-secondary education. Why? Because the choices you make over these next four years can change your qualifications. If you raise your grades, join a new club, switch your major, or decide to pursue a post-graduate degree, you might become eligible for new scholarships.
So, now that you know how to find scholarships, how to apply for scholarships, and how to get a scholarship of your very own, check out what scholarships the internet has to offer (including Scribendi's Community Leadership Scholarship) so that you can leave school with as little debt as possible!
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Ensure your scholarship essay stands out from the crowd.
About the Author
Scribendi’s in-house editors work with writers from all over the globe to perfect their writing. They know that no piece of writing is complete without a professional edit, and they love to see a good piece of writing turn into a great one after the editing process. Scribendi’s in-house editors are unrivaled in both experience and education, having collectively edited millions of words and obtained nearly 20 degrees collectively. They love consuming caffeinated beverages, reading books of various genres, and relaxing in quiet, dimly lit spaces.