Updated: Dec 11, 2018
Disclaimer: I am speaking on this from the perspective of a high school senior applying for scholarships for their undergraduate education.
Now by my senior year, I already had a great GPA, lots of volunteer hours, good extracurriculars, and some leadership roles throughout high school in and out
of the classroom. I followed my own 4-year high school plan, which definitely paid off. Here are some tips and tricks besides having all of the things I listed above to scoring scholarships.
1. Local & State >>>> National
I lived by this when applying for scholarships. I did not waste my time on websites like Fastweb.com or Scholarships.com because I knew my chances of winning anything were very slim. The small scholarships on websites like these are just not worth it in my opinion.
Now don't get me wrong, apply for the big reasonable ones like Ron Brown, Gates Millennium, Coca-Cola Scholars etc. Even though you are competing with the best of the best in the United States, with these big national ones, you still have a chance, and you never know.
Local scholarships are very easy to get if you have a good story and overall academic profile, including extracurriculars. With local ones, you are only competing with other students in your area, so it is not that hard to stand out if you've been putting the work in throughout your high school career.
2. Stay on top of people
Applying for scholarships, in general, is a very overwhelming process. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it is far from that if you are really putting in the effort. There are so many various components that you need for these applications that are beyond your control: recommendation letters, principal approvals sometimes, etc.
You'll soon find out how nerve-wracking it is to have to depend on others to complete something that can make the difference between going to college without worrying about debt or drowning in it. This is where "staying on top of people" comes into play.
With recommendation letters, I promise you will have like at least five people in mind who you THINK you'll have no problem getting the letters from, BUT everyone has their own busy schedule, so unless the person you are asking for that recommendation letter genuinely wants to see you succeed (shout out to Susel :)), you are on your own and will most likely have to track them down every step of the way or you'll find yourself panicking
over whether they're going to have your letter by the due date even though you told them WEEKS ahead of time, so ask for letters A MONTH in advance and follow up weekly. If a teacher or counselor told you they were going to write you a letter, hold them accountable for doing just that. You have worked hard for four years to get to this point...DO NOT settle for a poor recommendation letter.
Also, make sure the letters you get are general and don't include the specific name of any college or scholarship.
3. Have a story
Now I'm going to be honest, most scholarships are given on a NEED basis and not so much merit. For me, coming from a one parent income household has A LOT to do with the number of scholarships I've earned because that was "my story". As sad as it is you will find yourself answering a lot of "describe a hardship you have faced"type of questions.
It seems like scholarship committees love sob stories. So give them one. A TRUTHFUL one, please. Whether it be a death in your family, homelessness, a mental health disorder, cancer, just anything that has truly affected your life. Have your story and know how to share it with scholarship committees in an authentic and genuine manner that showcases your need for finances without directly saying you need money because __. DO NOT dwell on the sad part of the story, but explain your situation, then focus more on explaining how you have or are overcoming your hardship.
4. Family income matters
For scholarships that ask for income information:
Like I said, most scholarships are given on a NEED basis. Most scholarship committees determine that need by looking at your parent's income. If it is "low", you automatically have a great chance of obtaining that scholarship. If it is "high", I hate to say it but you are at a disadvantage for that particular scholarship.
I'm not saying if your parents make a good chunk of money you won't get any scholarships, but it will be harder because again, most of them are given based on need. If your family's tax information displays low income, you will appear to have a strong need for money in order to go to college.
I'm aware that just because your parents might make "enough" money does not mean they have an extra $10,000 sitting around to pay for all of your college expenses every year. (It sucks, but welcome to the system). You might be overlooked a lot because of this, and if the choice is between you and another applicant who has low income, you are most likely not getting chosen. BUT do not get discouraged because a lot of scholarships do not ask for tax information or income. This just goes for the ones that do :)
5. Use your background
By background, I mean the way you were raised, where your parents are from, if you are the oldest or youngest child etc. My parents were born and raised in Haiti and immigrated to the United States around the time I was born for a better life for their family. They did not have the same opportunities as me growing up, therefore, they have always placed a strong emphasis on the value of an education. BOOM, I just used my background. Your background says a lot about who you are today, so use it when describing yourself in essays and in interviews.
6. Scholarship Interviews
You might have to go on a few scholarship interviews depending on the process of the committees you are dealing with. I went to three. If you end up in the same boat, RELAX. Dress professionally, smile, answer questions in a timely manner, and show the scholarship committee why they would love to have you as a scholarship recipient instead of being worried about receiving the scholarship in general. Being nervous is natural, but do not let the nerves drive you.
I remember going to scholarship interviews where it was just me on one side of a huge table and then a panel of eight judges grilling me with questions on the other side. Some about myself, and some random ones that really required deep thought. After the interview, I didn't hear anything back for WEEKS, so it was normal to assume that I wasn't a finalist for the scholarship. I just kept thinking "where did I go wrong", "what question could I have answered better". I even considered emailing the scholarship director and asking her where
I could improve with interviewing. Weeks later, I received a packet in the mail along with a
letter stating that I had won a $5,000 scholarship from that same committee, so RELAX.
7. Use your resources, WHERE you are looking matters
Now, I had to get pretty creative with even finding scholarships to apply for, but I soon found out with the help of my mentor Susel Ramos, that I could use other schools and their networks to be successful myself. Here are some of the places I personally looked into and applied:
-Join other schools' google classrooms
-Check the websites of other schools for scholarship information
-Fraternities & sororities
-Businesses-local and state
-School alumni organizations (your college of choice)
-Scholarships being offered by your city
-NEED based scholarships
-Other schools websites
-Parents jobs & affiliations
There are so many organizations that offer scholarships in your area you have never even heard of, FIND THEM.
8. Do everything in moderation
What do I mean by moderation? Let's say in order to submit one scholarship you have to provide the application, recommendation letters, an essay, a photograph, and a personal statement. That is a lot of components for just one scholarship. Not to mention you still have about fifty other ones you want to apply to.
Deadlines will come fast and if you do not stay organized you will find yourself missing out on scholarships you could have received, but you will never know because you missed
the deadline because you had trouble getting things together.
MODERATION IS KEY. Set days aside to do certain things leading up to the due date. On one day just focus on drafting the essay. The next day edit the essay. The day after that collect your recommendation letters, and etc. I found that when I did not try to rush and get everything done in one day, I was more successful at having a good application packet to send in, so take your time.
9. Apply even when you think your application is trash
This one hits home. You will get so tired of writing essays and having to collect things to send in. There might be times where you don't have the amount of time you would love to devote to your essay. If you are anything like me, you would rather not turn anything in than to turn in work that is not your best.
Once again, you NEVER know how many people you are competing against. People get lazy with applying to scholarships, especially the ones you have to mail in. You just have to
not be one of those people. So even when you are not confident in your application it's better to submit something than nothing at all because you never know.
I remember being so upset because I hated one of the scholarship essays that I quickly wrote in a few hours. I sat at my desk for an hour contemplating whether or not I even wanted to apply with the application I had. I pushed through and submitted it anyway, and got the scholarship. Even though I thought it was bad, there was obviously something the committee saw in my work. With that being said, submit what you have even if it is not done in the way you wanted it to be.
10. Stay Positive
Yes, I won a lot of scholarship money, but understand that I was also denied
scholarships as well. For every scholarship I received, I promise there were at least 3
denies for other ones. A LOT OF DENIES. I mean email after email, letters that were sent to my mailbox just to tell me "Unfortunately we decided to award another deserving student of this scholarship". However, I kept going. You can not change the fact that you did not receive a scholarship, so do not dwell on it, or allow yourself to be discouraged about it. Move on, and get more.
Lastly, when you are going through this overwhelming process as a senior,
remember that you are applying, which is better than doing nothing. You are working towards your future instead of just going with the flow. You are trying, and you WILL because you CAN.
As always, my email is open for any questions. Do not hesitate to use me as a resource :)