The following is an abridged excerpt from my book The Complete Guide to a Debt Free Education which is being offered for free on Amazon on September 4. I only ask that you consider leaving an honest review on Amazon as payment.
Scholarships are amazing. Winning a scholarship is one of the only times in life when you’ll ever get free money from strangers just to help you out. As an adult, if someone randomly gives another person thousands of dollars just because they want them to succeed it makes the news. That’s because it’s so rare. Take advantage of the opportunity to get money from people you don’t know when you can.
And I’m not talking a twenty dollar bill either. I won around $60,000 in scholarships over the course of two degrees and graduated debt-free (it helped that I went to an affordable school – check out some cheap colleges to consider). Trust me when I say that I know how to apply for scholarships and win them. I want to help you win scholarships as well.
Apply for scholarships! There are scholarships out there for all kinds of students – don’t believe any of the scholarship myths (I debunk five of the biggest scholarship myths in this post – just scroll down!). If you follow this guide, I won’t just help you apply for scholarships – I’ll help you win them!
The first step to successfully apply for scholarships is to find them. The best places to find scholarships are on universities’ websites, your guidance counsellor’s office, or online. Also, be sure to see if your parents’ work, associations, unions, or clubs offer scholarships. Here are some great websites to check out:
Fastweb is a great website with over 1.5 million scholarships listed worth $3.4 billion. There aren’t many more complete and more useable websites out there so I would suggest going here first and then checking out other websites afterwards.
Zinch has over $1 billion in scholarships in their database which is a lot, but not as much as some other databases. I still highly recommend them because the site is easy and fun to use and there are some scholarships on there that aren’t available elsewhere.
Cappex is a site that most people know about because it can help you choose the school you’ll attend, but it also has an impressive database ofscholarships for you to search. They have $11 billion worth of scholarships so it’s definitely worth checking out! Their comprehensive list will make it easy for you to apply for scholarships.
Also, books can be a great place to find scholarships like these great ones (I wrote the middle one):
The next step to apply for scholarships is to rate them. By rating scholarships, you can prioritize the ones you have the highest chance of winning and thus only apply for scholarships you have a high chance of winning. I have a scale from 1-20 for each scholarship that I find. I first give them a number from 1-10 based on how well I fit the scholarship criteria. For example, perhaps they’re looking for someone who is a leader and I’ve only done a few things that could fall under that category. I might give myself a 3 or 4 because it’s not a great fit.
The next thing I do is give the scholarship a number from 1-5 on how local and specific the scholarship is. For example, if the scholarship is only open to women in my county, then I might give the scholarship a mark of 5 on that. The last criteria is measured from 1-5 on how well publicized the scholarship is. If it’s on every scholarship website then I would give it a lower score.
Finally, you add all those numbers up and put a rating into a scholarships spreadsheet. By doing this when you find the scholarship, you’ll be able to easily gauge how likely you will be to win a scholarship without having to revisit and reread the information. This is a hack that will make applying for scholarships easier.
Creating an Outline
The next thing you need to do when you apply for scholarships is to look closely at the application as a whole. Sometimes applications just have one personal essay question, but many have two or three shorter essays and then more short answer sections. Each question is looking to elucidate something different from you. Be sure to read my post about Creating Your Scholarship Story to help you better understand how to tell your story in your application.
Then what you need to do is create an outline of the whole application to ensure that you’re able to talk about each of your most important accomplishments somewhere. In some questions, you might be able to talk about two or three of the things you did, but in others they might only ask you to talk about one specific instance.
For example, let’s say you have an application and they ask you the following questions:
Tell us about your most significant achievement. (essay length)
Tell us about how you’ve grown as a leader over the last few years and taken on new challenges. (essay length)
Describe a situation in which you had to do the unpopular thing. (short answer)
What has been one of your most meaningful contributions as a volunteer? (short answer)
Describe how your successes and failures have contributed to your development as a leader. (short answer)
You now have to figure out how to touch on all of the important things about your involvements. You don’t want to repeat yourself and talk about the same activity over and over again. While I might have had a lot of successes and failures with the Community Service Council that I founded, because it was the activity that I spent most of my time on, I want to write about it in my essay on my most significant achievement.
Always start by deciding what you should write your essay(s) on. Sometimes, you can write about a number of different involvements in one essay or short answer question- like in the question that asks about how you’ve grown as a leader.
Once you’ve figured out how to speak in detail about your most impressive accomplishments, start slotting in some of the things you’ve done that might not be as impressive and speak about those in the short answer questions. Keep adjusting until you’re able to speak about every accomplishment and involvement you feel is relevant in ways that fit the questions being asked. It can sometimes take careful thought and attention to be successful when you apply for scholarships.
Once you have your outline ready, you’re ready for the next step – writing your first draft. Remember to tell a compelling story. Try to inspire the reader and move them. If you can relate specific incidents, this can often be a more engaging way to write about your life. Make people feel like they were there or like they can imagine being there.
Don’t worry at this point too much about diction, spelling, or grammar. You just want to get your thoughts on the page. Also, while you should keep your word count in mind (this is very important when you apply for scholarships) don’t try to stick to it obsessively in this first draft. It is much harder to write things succinctly. Save the difficult work of paring your word count down for your second draft.
Polishing Your Application
Now onto the final step necessary to apply for scholarships! Once you have a first draft, it’s time to look at it critically and polish it. Is it written in a compelling manner? Is it inspirational? Does it flow well? I like to start by editing my first draft for content. I make that first draft as well written as possible and then I focus on word count, diction, spelling, and grammar.
Once you have your essay written in a way that you find compelling, start polishing it. This can take a short time or a long time, it just depends on how comfortable you are with writing and how easy you find it to tell the story. Don’t worry if it’s taking you a long time. Keep polishing your work and tweaking it until you feel satisfied. Ask someone else to read it and incorporate their feedback if it’s relevant.
Final Step: Successfully Apply for Scholarships
It’s not difficult to apply for scholarships, but it can be time consuming. Be sure to give yourself enough time to write and submit the application. It’s not worth the time and effort to apply for scholarships if you’re not going to do a good job. If you have followed all the recommendations and steps in this post, there’s a good chance that you will succeed and win some money from a stranger to help you with your studies! In which case, congratulations!
Here are some other posts that will help you save money throughout your degree:
7 Ways to Save Money on Your Textbooks
How to Outfit Your Dorm or Apartment for Less
How Student Loans Work
My 6 Best Frugal Tips
This article is an excerpt from my book, The Complete Guide to a Debt-Free Education: How to choose a school, win scholarships, make money, and live frugally!, available on Amazon. If you need help applying for scholarships, I offer admissions and scholarship consulting through Getting In Consulting.