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Scholarship 101: How to Effectively Apply For & Win a Scholarship

Target group: High school seniors and all college students

A wise man once told me, "there's nothing like tax-free money." And what better way to get some tax-free money than through scholarships. With that being said, scholarships are a critical aspect of succeeding in college. And how can you win a scholarship if you don't apply? This article will teach you some tips and tricks about how to not only apply for scholarships, but also how to win them.

There are four phases of successfully winning a scholarship which are: finding the scholarship, applying for the scholarship, the waiting period, and ultimately, winning the scholarship.

Phase 1: Finding the Scholarship

There are thousands of scholarships out there, but finding them can certainly be a challenge. One way to find scholarships is to simply do a Google search. Some key things to search for are scholarships in your major, class level, race, or anything that you identify with. The next way is to ask your financial aid office or visit the school/college’s website to find scholarships that you may qualify for. The third and arguably the best way to find scholarships is through the people you know. Individuals such as your advisor, counselor, mentor, and members of your organization(s) can and will help you find the money you need. And even better is that these individuals can vouch for you (i.e. through a letter of recommendation) which gives you an excellent chance of winning the scholarship. Remember that scholarships are a game of chances and you have to play your cards right.

Phase 2: Applying for the Scholarship

Clearly the most important step. As previously stated, you can't win a scholarship unless you actually apply. If there's anything to take away from this article, it would be to apply for as many scholarships as possible. There's not that many people that have a double digit success rate when it comes to scholarships, but the more you apply for, the higher your chances of winning. And do you really have much to lose if you apply for scholarships other than a postage stamp and maybe a transcript fee?

Once you've found all the scholarships that you (potentially) qualify for, compile a list along with the associated deadlines. This will help you form a solid plan on when certain scholarships are due to ensure you don't miss out on any free money. It will also make your life easier in the following year when it's time to apply again.

And now to actually applying. Apply even if you aren't fully eligible. What if no one else knows about the scholarship and you missed the GPA requirement by just one point? Chances are you're probably going to win that scholarship. Be sure to complete your application in full and submit all required materials to the correct address. Another tip is to get letter of recommendations that are as personal/specific to the scholarship as possible. The more the recommendation relates to the scholarship, the better. And be sure to give your recommender enough time (at least a month) to craft a letter that will help you land the scholarship. If you have a generic letter, make sure it has the relevant information of the actual scholarship (i.e. the name of the scholarship). Extremely important tip is to try to have your recommender send the letter directly to the scholarship organization to make the letter more convincing. Make your essay as concise and to the point as possible and be sure to actually answer the essay question(s). There are organizations that will disqualify you if you write a 505 word essay that has a 500 word requirement. Always pay attention to the requirements and try to meet them as best as possible.

After you're ready to send the scholarship, double check everything. Specifically: reread your essay, make sure the application has the correct information, and make sure you have all the documents that the organization requests. Remember, it's the simple things in life that make the biggest difference. Imagine being fully qualified for a full-ride scholarship, but forgetting to do something as simple as requesting an official transcript? These "simple things" are probably the type of things that eliminate applicants the most.

Phase 3: The Waiting Period

This is the phase that gets underestimated the most, but is extremely important. Remember those simple things? What if instead of the transcript, you sent the application to the wrong address? Three months later, you're sitting very anxious waiting on a scholarship decision that you're almost certain will work out in your favor, but you don't even get a notification because you simply didn't have the right address. An easy way to avoid these silly mistakes is to follow up. The general rule of thumb is to follow up two weeks after applying for the scholarship if you don't receive any confirmation within that time frame. Due to the increased number of online applications, you normally get an email confirmation of the successful submission of your scholarship application. But then again, you still might have to request a physical copy of a transcript. The follow up should be focused on those physical applications and supporting materials. Best way to follow up is by calling the organization. If no one picks up, call again. If no one picks up after two tries, leave a detailed message. If no one gets back to you within three business days, send an email. If after a few days and still no response, you should either mail a letter of confirmation request or resend the application. Just make sure the follow up happens before the scholarship deadline. If they lost your application, simply reapply. Remember, you don't have that much to lose by applying.

Phase 4: Winning the Scholarship

Congratulations if you reach this phase! There's arguably no better feeling in life than success. Once you receive your congratulations email or letter, you have successfully mastered the four phases of winning a scholarship, but that's not all. Once you win the scholarship, it's always good to thank the organization in the form of an email or a personal thank you card. You'll probably apply for this scholarship again next year and by doing this will increase your chances of winning again. Some scholarships have a grandfather clause where once you win, you will win again until you become ineligible, but missing simple things such as thanking the organization may prevent this from "automatically" happening. If there's a scholarship ceremony that you have to attend, simply attend. Missing that very small step can negate your scholarship and how bad would that feel?

So there goes the four phases of successfully winning a scholarship. If you're able to follow some of the tips in this article, I guarantee that your winning rate will increase. The cost of college is only increasing so it's critical to take advantage of scholarships. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. And remember that there are scholarships posted on my website.

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