BY KAYLA MATTHEWS
It’s an intimidating prospect – how can anyone in their early twenties manage to cover all their educational expenses, which can easily add up to a small fortune? It may sound obvious, but don’t overlook seeking out scholarships, and lots of them. There are a huge variety of scholarships available to most students, and finding some will make your financial burden invariably lighter.
Local and Unique Scholarships Are the Most Powerful
A key way to ensure scholarship-application success is to apply to scholarships no one else applies to. This is a lot easier than you think. Approach guidance counselors at your school, teachers, your parents and your parents’ friends. Many schools have long lists of local scholarships and will be happy to help you find out about them, mostly because there aren’t a lot of people asking for help.
The majority of your scholarships should be sought out locally. Scholarship websites like Fastweb can receive hundreds or thousands of applications per scholarship, making them much more competitive and thereby decreasing your odds at winning them – even if you are exceptional. Applying strategically means making the odds go in your favor.
Weird and specific scholarships could be right up your alley. Any chance you are planning on going to clown college? Yeah, there’s a scholarship for that.
Are you a huge Shelby Mustang fan with some videography skills? Enter CJ Pony Parts’ scholarship video contest.
You can also use scholarship sites like CollegeExpress and Fastweb with the purpose of finding unique scholarships. Because many of them are so specific, they are not likely to have a lot of other applicants.
Apply to Everything Relevant
Another way to push the odds in your favor is to apply to a lot of scholarships. A lot, as in dozens. People who manage to fully fund their college education often apply to 50 or more scholarships.
This is because most scholarships are for between $500 and $2,000. It may seem like a drop in the bucket when you’re facing $30,000 in tuition per year, but it adds up to make a real difference. Even if you don’t cover all your tuition, you can look at that $500 scholarship as a new computer, groceries – you can finally eat something other than microwave ramen noodles this week – or part of rent.
Make Your Application Count
Most scholarships have three major components:
- Personal essay
- Letters of recommendation
You are going to be applying to a lot of scholarships, so it helps to streamline the process. Writing dozens of personal essays for different scholarships may seem intimidating at first, but after the first few, you will have enough material to copy and paste into new essays. Eventually, you should aim to complete at least one application per day.
The key to a strong personal essay is to get lots of feedback. Let your parents and teachers look it over – basically any functioning adult with some knowledge of the academic world can be a major help to you. Because you will end up using the material from the first essays you write on later applications, it’s best to make sure these essays are strong. Try to have at least two different people proof your first essays.
Then, we get to the letters of recommendation. The best way to tackle these is to create an outline for your recommenders with what you’d like to emphasize in your applications. List three unique things about yourself on this outline – did you help other students during after-school sessions? Were you a leader on a successful presentation or project? Listing these things will help your application stand out from the others. A generic letter of recommendation is not likely to help you.
In order to streamline the letter of recommendation process, you can ask your recommenders to submit their letter online to a service like Interfolio. Medical school applicants often use this online platform to organize their letters of recommendation to send out to schools electronically, and there’s no reason you can’t use it too. Interfolio allows you to store and send your letter of recommendation online. This way, you don’t have to pester your recommender 60 times for the 60 different scholarships you will apply to – you only need to ask once. It’s also courteous – they don’t have to pay postage.
The final part of your application is your transcripts. This is straightforward. You will be getting to know your school’s transcript office well!
In the end, finding scholarship opportunities for school is a matter of endurance. You will need to submit a lot of applications, but as you can see, it doesn’t always take a lot of time and effort to do so. Hopefully, all your hard work will pay off in the end.
Kayla Matthews writes about college life and student productivity for Hack College, Student Advisor and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews.