Deadlines are fast approaching
Applying for scholarships is important for one simple reason: you can receive free money for college. There are people and organizations and community groups out there right now, willing and ready to give you money to go to college.
You might know something about federal and state financial aid. But that type of aid is based on financial need. Need-based aid is the primary reason to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. (The U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college– Literally billions of dollars.) But, there are many, many more sources of funds.
I used to make a joke during presentations, suggesting that there were so many scholarships for so many different things, that there was probably a scholarship for left-handed people. It turns out, there really is a scholarship for left-handed people…
How do you find them?
Researching scholarships, requesting information and application materials, and completing applications all take time. You need to be doing this now because deadlines vary and many are coming up.
Ancilla College’s four favorite search databases are all free. You will have to fill out an online form, and the information you provide may be sold to colleges and universities that will send you promotional information, but it can be worth it.
These sites have their own listings and search engines that allow you to dig around looking for scholarships in your region, state, degree interest, and other criteria.
- FastWeb, maybe the biggest of these sites, with over a billion dollars in scholarships listed. Fastweb is an acronym for Financial Aid Search Through the WEB- https://www.fastweb.com/
- Chegg, began as a student job and textbook-trading website but today has great student resources and loads of scholarship resources to search though. https://www.chegg.com
- Big Future from College Board (the same company that produces the SAT) is here- https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search
- CollegeNet, a developer of web technology for higher education and non-profit institutions, is another great resource- https://www.collegenet.com/mach25/app
Start by searching for scholarships in the subject matter or degree field you want. Use your interests, and geographic location, to narrow the search.
Apply, and apply, and apply some more
Community organizations and foundations will not know who you are. You have to complete and submit applications that sometimes include essays, recommendations, and lists of achievements that highlight your best qualities. (But, unlike school assignments you can actually use your own work over and over for different scholarships.)
There are no secrets to applying. Use common sense and follow directions. Seriously, follow the directions and check your spelling above all else. You will get nowhere if you fill in the wrong information, or skip important steps in an application.
Don’t Miss Deadlines
Some scholarships have deadlines you may have already missed. Don’t panic. Some are by the end of the year—just a few weeks away. Check the deadlines and finish the applications that are due first.
Read Eligibility Requirements Carefully
If it says you need to be a resident of Valparaiso to apply, don’t apply in Indianapolis. If you have a question about whether you qualify for a certain scholarship, contact the scholarship sponsor. There’s no point in applying for a scholarship you’re not eligible to receive. The scholarship contact information is usually online.
Make a separate file, or ‘save as’ a copy with a different file name on your computer for each scholarship and sort the files by application due dates. You should also gather the items you’ll need to apply. Most scholarships ask you to send some (or sometimes all) of the following:
- Your most recent high school transcripts
- Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)
- Financial aid forms, like the FAFSA
- Your parents’ financial information, including tax returns
- One or more essays
- One or more letters of recommendation
- Proof of eligibility for the scholarship (for example, proof of membership in a certain group)
And if you’re competing for talent-based scholarships, you’ll probably need to audition or submit a portfolio. This might be a video recording from your phone or it could mean travelling to an audition site.
Sometimes there is an urge to overdo it. But the people reviewing scholarship applications don’t want to wade through materials they didn’t ask for. Stick to the word limit for the essay. If supporting materials are not requested in the application, don’t send anything extra. There is no extra credit on scholarship apps. Use common sense, start early and follow directions.
Check Your Application
Before you send the application in:
- Make sure you filled in all the blanks. Answer every question. You can contact scholarship sponsors if you aren’t sure how to fill out parts of the application.
- Make sure your answers are readable. If you can, fill out the application online and don’t be afraid to use a word processor like Microsoft Word to write your answers first. You can copy-and-paste them into online text boxes later. If you have to physically write out the application, print neatly.
- If you’re reusing material (such as a cover letter or an essay) from another scholarship application, make sure you haven’t left in the wrong college or sponsor names from a previous app. This will almost always get your application rejected out of hand, no matter what a fine person you are.
- Proofread your application. Run spell check and grammar check on the application. It might help to have someone else read your essay to catch mistakes and give you feedback.
- Remember to sign and date your application. You would be surprised how often this is skipped.
Keep Copies of Everything!
Having copies of your scholarship application makes it easy to resend quickly if application materials get lost in the mail. If you’re applying for a scholarship online, save copies of your work on your computer.
Fill out your FAFSA
Ok, this isn’t really about scholarships but it’s still very important. Completing the FAFSA allows you to be considered for the greatest amount of financial aid from federal, state, and college sources — and it’s free to fill out (www.fafsa.ed.gov). It’s available online now. Why wait.
But watch out…
Don’t ever, ever, ever pay money for a ‘scholarship guide’ or any ‘application fee’ to apply for a scholarship. If someone is charging you money to give you money, there’s a problem. Don’t be conned by someone running a website that simply re-lists scholarship sources you can get free from other, legitimate, sources.