The time to start looking for scholarships is in your junior year of high school. Good grades, wide interests, involvement in extracurricular activities and community affairs, and a skill (sports or music, for example) help you stand out above the crowd when it comes time to award scholarships. Self-marketing skills are an added bonus.
- Most scholarship deadlines occur during the fall and winter of your senior year, the same time that college admissions and financial aid applications have to be submitted. Plan ahead and begin your scholarship search early so you can spend the summer before your senior year writing essays and completing scholarship applications.
- When writing essays for scholarships, first acquaint yourself with the ideals of the organization you're applying to, then emphasize your own traits that reflect those same ideals. This technique could give you an edge with the judges, who naturally would love to award a scholarship to a student with ideals shared by the organization itself.
- If your state lottery had a huge jackpot, you wouldn't buy just one lottery ticket, would you? You shouldn't limit yourself to just a few scholarship applications either. Scholarships are like a huge lottery, except you have the power to influence the outcome. The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances of winning substantial sums.
- It may seem like scholarships are a Catch-22. The more of them you're awarded, the more the school reduces your financial aid package. Here's a way to reduce the damage: Meet with the financial aid officer of your college to explain your situation and ask to have the loan portion of your package reduced and leave the grants intact. This reduces the amount you have to repay and you get to keep the free scholarship money.
- You don't have to be a straight-A student to qualify for a scholarship. Several states offer scholarships to B students from lottery proceeds or other state funds. To keep these scholarships, you have to maintain a B average or better.
- The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators estimates that 350,000 people are cheated out of $5 million in scholarship scams each year. One popular scam is a free seminar about scholarships where you're pressured into signing contracts for hundreds of dollars for "professional" help. At best, you may be provided information you could have obtained free; at worst, you may never hear from the "professionals" once you pay their fee. Some legitimate companies do charge a fee for scholarship information, but they never guarantee scholarships or grants.
- Another scam that many students or their families fall victim to is providing bank account or credit card information in order to hold a "guaranteed" scholarship that you're told you qualify for. The scam artists use this information to debit money from your bank account or make unauthorized charges to your credit card. No legitimate scholarship service will request bank account or credit card information.
- As you advance in your education, there are more opportunities for academic and career-related scholarships that you wouldn't have been eligible for in your first year or two of college. Check with your school's financial aid office and the academic department for your major regularly about scholarship opportunities specifically for students in your field of study.
- Many organizations and colleges offer scholarship money based at least in part on geography. For example, in an effort to foster interest in technology, some professional chapters of the National Technical Association award scholarships to local students in their geographical area who are majoring in science and engineering fields. Another example is the College Foundation of North Carolina, which awards scholarships to children or grandchildren of Vietnam veterans living in certain counties in North Carolina.
- Ethnicity is another criteria used in many awards. The Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities awards substantial fellowships to Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Pacific Islanders, and Puerto Ricans engaged in or planning a teaching and research career. The American Sociological Association awards scholarships to minority students studying sociology. Hispanic Designers Scholarships gives awards to Hispanic American students with a minimum GPA of 2.5 who pursue design-related fields. Search for scholarships that may be given for any criteria you meet, whether it's based on location, ethnicity, interests, skills, ancestry, or anything else.
- Concentrate primarily on local scholarships even if the amounts are smaller, because there's less competition and your chances of winning are greater. A few small local scholarships can quickly add up to as much, if not more, than one large national s
- If you or your friends have older siblings who've already been to college, pick their brains about how to get scholarships, how to write winning essays, and how to avoid pitfalls. You might as well learn from somebody else's mistakes and successes.
Seven Tips to Prevent You from Losing
Your Scholarships and Other Aid
- Read the small print in all of your scholarships and know the requirements you must meet to continue to qualify. For example, many scholarships require that you maintain a certain GPA. There also may be other less obvious requirements. Make sure you know what they are or you could inadvertently disqualify yourself.
- If you have a scholarship based on playing a particular sport or musical instrument, don't quit that activity mid-semester or you may find yourself repaying the scholarship money you've already spent. Try to tough it out long enough to get as much of the financial benefit as possible.
- If you have financial aid based on need, you could disqualify yourself if your income exceeds the limits. Check with your financial aid office early in the year to find out how much you can earn without affecting your eligibility, then keep an eye on your income during the year to make sure you don't exceed this amount.
- If your scholarship is based on majoring in a particular subject and you're contemplating a switch in majors, find out what impact that will have on your scholarship so you can plan accordingly. Will you lose the scholarship? Will you have to repay what you've already received?
- For multiyear scholarship awards, find out whether it's necessary to complete paperwork each year or if the award automatically renews on an annual basis. Don't risk losing your award by failing to file required paperwork or meet other criteria.
- If you've received financial aid and you decide to withdraw from classes, consult your financial aid office first. You may have to repay a prorated portion of the financial aid you received if you withdraw before you've completed at least 60 percent of the period for which the funds were given. Some advance planning could save you a significant sum.
- Before planning to move off campus, check with your financial aid office. Some financial aid packages require you to live on campus. It could be disastrous if you move off campus only to find that you've disqualified yourself from your financial aid.