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Scholarships. Such a pain, but there’s so much money out there. Many try and fail at the scholarship game. However, with over $100 million in scholarship money going unclaimed every year, it is certainly worth putting in the effort to get your piece of the pie. To guide you to scholarship success, follow my top tips.
Tip #1: Follow Directions
Seriously. After working in education for so many years, it still amazes me how many students fail to follow directions. If an application asks for your essay to be in 12 point font, write it in 12 point font. If they ask you to be under a certain word count, do not go over that word count.
Often, simple instructions are overlooked because you weren’t paying attention. You will likely be ruled out immediately if you can’t follow directions. This is great advice for job applications and interviews as well. Sometimes, they’ll even test you with odd instructions or ask for specific things just to make sure you followed directions. They are trying to rule people out, so follow their rules.
Tip #2: It’s a Numbers Game
Far too often, students quit after only applying to a few scholarships. It’s such a shame! The more you apply to, the more chances you have to win. Generally speaking, you will get 1/10 scholarships you apply for, sometimes fewer than that. If you quit after only applying to ten or twenty scholarships, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Tip #3: Apply for Scholarships With Smaller Award Amounts
Everyone is applying for the Coca Cola and Target Scholarships. While it is still important to apply to scholarships offering big money, the smaller scholarships are arguably more worth your time. If you win ten scholarships worth just $250 each, that is far better than winning $0 of a larger scholarship. Since everyone wants the larger scholarships, they often miss or don’t want to “waste their time” with smaller scholarships. For you, that means less competition. Dollars add up, so don’t ignore the small scholarships.
Tip #4: Submit Your Applications Early
This is a huge pet-peeve of mine working with students. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE!! It’s time to be an adult now. Lots can go wrong if you procrastinate- email crashes, accidental essay deletion, internet server issues on either end, etc. Things happen that are outside of your control. Submitting your applications a few days early gives you time to fix things if something goes wrong. I’ve had students find out after the fact that the scholarship committee didn’t receive their application, or it got misplaced, but it was too late as they had already selected a winner.
It is your responsibility to allot enough time to submit your materials and follow up in case things go wrong, and things go wrong frequently. Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. Plan for it.
Tip #5: Format Your Essay- Scholarship Style
This is perhaps my biggest trick. If you do nothing else to maximize your chances of getting scholarship money, do this. You’ll notice that most scholarships are given by organizations that have certain areas of expertise, and they ask for essays on topics that relate to their areas of expertise. The topics provided to you will be written in a way that they can be broadly interpreted and have a lot of leeway. Do not regurgitate a bunch of Google statistics about a topic they already know about. In every application you submit, answer the question: Why should you give me money over everyone else? They want to know about YOU and how their money will go to good use because they are investing in a student who will put it to good use
Example: I once had a student who was applying for a technology related scholarship. The prompt was “Tell us about how technology has changed things for the better.” The student wrote an original draft about how computers are great for people and allow us to use things like the internet, social media and email. BLAH! SO BORING! After brainstorming, this student changed his essay to reflect his personal experiences. He is a music major, so he wrote his essay about how technology has changed the music field and gave 2 great examples.
1. His dad is a musician and used to write music by hand. If there was a mistake made, he had to change it by hand and rewrite the entire composition. Nowadays, if there is a mistake software is able to easily fix it.
2. Recording music has changed as well. Now with new software, it’s easier to set up a studio whereas before musicians had to buy different equipment to make simple music.
He used the prompt of the essay to relate to him and his career and how technology can advance his major and career. Between those two essays, would you choose option one or option two? It’s a no-brainer, right?
You can also write essays that teach the scholarship committee more about who you are in terms of character traits or other soft skills. For example, if a law firm offers a scholarship where they require you to write about legal reform around texting and driving, do not write them a paper about how texting and driving is bad- they know that. Instead, you could write about how you lead a campaign at your school to educate teens on the dangers of texting and driving. That shows leadership skills and passion around the issue. If I were on the scholarship committee, I know who I’d choose.
By following these five simple tips, you will increase your chances of winning some cash for college. It takes commitment and time to get scholarship money. I am not suggesting that by applying for scholarships you’ll get all of your college paid for, get rich quick, or that it will be easy. It will take time and discipline, but by following these tips, you will increase your chances and make applying for scholarships a better use of your time.