The price tag of a college education is scary. Between tuition, housing, meal plans, parking passes, textbooks, and more, it seems like the bills never seems to end. For most students, trying to avoid and/or overcome this mountain of student debt is…well…like trying to climb a mountain. Luckily, there are plenty of scholarships out there to help students fund our education, but figuring out how to apply to scholarships the right way? Well, that’s the tricky part.
When applying to scholarships, you are competing against other students for funding. You need to present your best self as someone who is not only going to make a difference in the world, but as someone who already is. You need to show the scholarship committee what makes you unique and worthy of their funding. This post is going to break everything down for you step-by-step on how to get organized and submit more high-quality applications in less time, increasing your chance of funding.
Step One: Create a Scholarship Binder
When it comes to applying to a large number of scholarships quickly and efficiently, organization is your best friend. By creating a scholarship binder, you can keep not only your scholarship applications in one place, but also your scholarship portfolio, submission materials, deadlines, notes, and so much more. Your scholarship binder also allows you to put everything in one organized space, giving you the ability to see everything that needs to do, the materials you have and need to collect, etc.
To learn more about creating a scholarship binder, just click here. The link also has several free printables to help with organizing your scholarships!
In addition to using the printables from your scholarship binder to keep track of the dates that each scholarship is due, I also recommend writing the due dates in your agenda and your phone calendar. Having a deadline written two different places prevents you accidentally looking over it or forgetting about it.
I also recommend writing the due date as being several days early, just to make sure you stay ahead in case you run into any last-minute snags.
Step Two: Create a Scholarship Application Portfolio
Your scholarship application portfolio is a major piece of your scholarship binder and although it’s the most time consuming to create, it saves you much more time in the long run as you apply to scholarships. In fact, having a pre-made scholarship application portfolio makes applying to some scholarships as easy as copy-and-paste.
Essentially, a scholarship application portfolio is created because many applications will ask for a list of your community service hours, leadership positions, and extracurricular activities. This list should be started at the high school level and be gradually added to as a student goes through college, containing the basic information of each activity (year of participation, leadership positions held, etc.) as well as a thorough description that explains what the activity was and what you gained from it.
By having a pre-made portfolio, student can easily reference it each time they fill out an application, rather than trying to recall each item individually. Student can also copy-and-paste the information about each activity into the application, speeding up the application process.
My entire guide on creating a scholarship portfolio can be found here.
Step Three: Collect Any Additional Materials
In your scholarship binder, you should always keep extra copies of common scholarship materials on hand. Some of these materials include:
- Recommendation Letters
- Cover Letters
- Proof of Enrollment
- College Acceptance Letter (for high school seniors)
These are all common materials required by scholarship organizations, so if there’s ever a last-minute scholarship you’re applying to or an overlooked application material that you don’t see until the last second, you won’t miss the application deadline because you have extra copies of these items on hand.
Having these copies on hand ahead of time also makes the application process easier, as you won’t have to worry about requesting them continuously each time you need 1.
In my own experience, I have had several occasions when I would be double-checking—or even triple-checking—the required application materials, only to realize that I had somehow skipped over a required material! If I didn’t have these extra copies on hand, then I would not have been able to apply; some of these scholarships I actually won, but if I had not had extra copies of these materials on hand, then I would not have been able to apply.
Having extra materials on hand also prevents students from procrastinating and then trying to collect these materials last-minute, only to realize that it takes a few days to process an official transcript, that their professor doesn’t have time to write them a recommendation letter, or a snow day that prevents students from collecting the materials. Each of these scenarios can easily be prevented by having extra copies of these application materials ahead of time.
Step Four: Find Scholarships to Apply to
There are multiple scholarships engines and apps out there that you can use to find scholarships. I recommend using 2 or 3 so that you don’t overwhelm yourself, but also so that you diversify the types of scholarship engines you use, as some scholarships may be listed on one site and not another.
I also recommend checking to see if your school has any applications available for local scholarships, as many community businesses/organizations will send their applications to nearby schools, but not list them on scholarship engines. This creates a much more limited pool, increasing your chances of winning.
For high schoolers, the majority of these local scholarships are only for graduating seniors. However, even if your an underclassman, go ahead and take a look at what the applications require and what the essays are, as the applications and prompts are often the same year after year. By taking a look at the requirements years beforehand, you can get involved in more activities, more community service, or whatever else you may need in order to fit the requirements of the scholarship and be the best candidate possible when it is time for you to apply.
Looking for more places to find scholarships? Check out this post, which details several places where you can find scholarships!
Step Five: Organize Your Scholarship Applications
Like we said before, the key to applying to as many scholarships as possible is staying organized. When it comes to organizing your scholarship applications, find an organization method that works for you and then stick to it. I prefer to use a binder, but some people like to use accordion folders, notebooks, etc.
Besides organizing potential scholarships in my scholarship binder, I also organize them on my flash drive. First I create one folder lableled “Scholarships” so that they’re all in the same place. Then I create 12 different folders, one for each month of the year. (I also put the year on the folder–for example, May 2019–so that I can keep track of it year to year.)
With each scholarship application, I then create a Word document where I copy-and-paste the scholarship name, web address, requirements, and essay prompt (if any), and then save the document (underneath it’s respective folder by month it’s due) with a name that goes like this: “Month Day—Scholarship Name”.
For example, I might have it labeled “February 15th–Lincoln County Art Scholarship”.
Having the documents labeled like this organizes them by their due date within their respective folders, which makes it easy to see their due dates and find the one that I want to work on.
Step Six: Write Your Scholarship Essays
The great part about all the work you’ve done in steps 1-5 is that once you get to this part, writing your essays are the only work you actually have to do in each application.
After all, your basic information (name, contact information, etc.) doesn’t take but a minute to do in each application, and your extracurricular activities and honors will be copied and pasted from your scholarship application portfolio each time. By the point you have all of that pre-made, your essays will be the only actual “work” you have to do on a scholarship application, and even then I’m going to show you how to cut that time down even more.
But before you begin writing a scholarship essay, I suggest reading some posts on how to write the best scholarship essay (as a scholarship essay is quite different then an academic essay), as well as creating a reference list that you can keep in your binder. It doesn’t have to be long (it can actually just be a series of bullet points), but you should consider these items:
- What are your personality traits?
- What makes you unique?
- Do you have any special circumstances that they need to consider?
- What are you involved in?
- What do you do in your free time?
- How would your friends describe you?
- What are your career goals?
These questions are common themes in essay prompts, so having a list you can reference to each time will save you a lot of pre-planning work for your essay.
I also recommend writing a generic bio about yourself that you can then customize(if needed) when a bio is required. Once again, this is something you’ll be able to copy-and-paste into each application.
Step Seven: Collect Postal Mail Materials
Once you have your essays written, the application filled out, and the additional materials collected, it’s finally time to submit your application. When you are applying for a scholarship that needs to be sent through postal mail, it is important to make sure that you don’t get the “postmark” date and the “received by” date mixed up.
Send in your application using a large manila envelopes, which means that you don’t have to fold your application up and that it will arrive with no creases and not in a bulging envelope (which makes it look much more professional upon arrival).
However, once it’s time to mail your application, I highly recommend taking the envelope to the post office and finding out how much postage you need, rather than guessing and sending it from your home mail box. I tried sending one of my applications from home once, thinking that I had put enough postage stamps on it, only to receive it back in the mail with a sticker saying that it required additional postage. The problem was, the day that I had originally sent it was the required “postmark by” date, and since I had received it back in the mail days later without a postmark, it was technically no longer eligible for the competition.Believe me, you do not want this to happen to you, no matter how close or far from the deadline you are.
Step Eight: Document Your Scholarships
Applying to scholarships doesn’t just end when you submit your application. After each scholarship that I apply to, I write down the essential information on my “Applied Scholarships” printable, which you can access through my “How to Organize Your Scholarship Binder” post.
This printable keeps track of what scholarships I have applied to, the sponsor, the deadline, the announcement date, and whether I won or lost. By having this printable, you will also know when to keep an eye on your inbox/mailbox and when to check the sponsor’s website/social media pages for updates. It’s also a great way to track how many scholarships you have applied to and won.
While I’ll admit that this is a lot of work, I have found that this method helps me apply to more scholarships effectively and efficiently, increasing not only my chances of being awarded a scholarship, but the amount that I can earn.
However, my one piece of advice is to never feel discouraged and give up, even if you don’t win a scholarship on your first few tries. You should also never ever focus on how many scholarships you didn’t receive; after all, you never hear any scholarship recipients discuss many they lost before they finally won, right?! Most likely, you’re going to lose more scholarship competitions then you’re going to win, but that doesn’t matter. As long as you keep trying, your hard work will pay off, and you can conquer that mountain of student debt before it even begins to build up. Even just winning a few thousand dollars in scholarships will have such a positive impact on you and your college education.
Wanting more information on the scholarship process? Check out these posts: What to Do After You Win a Scholarship, Where to Find Scholarships, How to Create a Scholarship Application Portfolio, How to Organize Your Scholarship Binder, and What to Do After You Win a Scholarship.