The cost of college can be extremely scary. Growing up, it seemed it was all my teachers would ever talk about: the importance of college, its cost, the growing amount of student debt, and scholarships; I can remember my teachers talking about this as far back as elementary school. However, college has always been something I’ve wanted to do (I guess that should be a bit obvious, though, since I’m a college blogger). Because of the growing cost of college, I decided to take a financial literacy course in high school so that I could be more educated about my finances. Of course, the pattern of college’s importance continued, as one of the course’s emphasis’ was college scholarships and how they can decrease your student debt.
To get us started, my teacher gave us her method of organizing scholarships (which involved divided tabs in an accordion folder) and I did my best to follow it; however, I quickly discovered that it wasn’t the best method for me. I would print off applications that had a deadline much too close for me to finish, my papers easily got out of order, and it was hard for me to look at the upcoming applications and deadlines without needing to pull all of the papers out.
After several months of try-and-fail with this method, I decided to create my own organizational method. Although it took several months of try-and-fail, I have finally created a way to organize my scholarship applications and materials, and it has been so essential to my scholarship application process that I doubt I would have done as well without it. Of course, this organizational method is what works best for me, but feel free to adapt it to meet your own needs.
What you will need:
- A 1-inch binder
- Binder Dividers/Tabs
- Plastic page protectors
- Manilla folders, 3-hole punched
- FREE Scholarship Organizer Printables
(Do you want these printables in a different color scheme? Let me know and I’ll create and add some for the most requested!)
This is the area that comes before any of the tabs, and it is very important because it is where I put my Applied Scholarships Printable. This printable allows me to easily track what scholarships I have applied to, when I applied, the announcement date, how much the scholarship is worth, etc. Plus, opening up the binder and seeing a list of the scholarships that I have applied to and won is extremely encouraging. I keep this printable in a plastic page protector and pull it out whenever I need to add something to it.
Behind the Applied Scholarships printable is where I keep a variety of notes that I have taken on how to write the best scholarship essay. Although researching how to write a scholarship essay may seem weird (after all, you’ve been writing academic essays for years), this is definitely a priority. Scholarship essays are extremely different from academic essays because you are more focused showcasing your individuality than sticking with the “five-paragraph rule”. Researching how to write a scholarship essay also allows you to read about what the judges are looking for in an essay, the best ways to format it, and some basic ideas just to get your train of thought going. My notes also include a set of common scholarship interview questions (with my own personalized answers to them) to review before a scholarship interview, as well as a list of websites that I like to look at for scholarships.
1st Tab: Scholarship Deadlines
Submitting your scholarship application before the deadline is a necessity, but deadlines can easily be overlooked if you’re busy with school, homework, a job, or even other scholarship applications. When deadlines are overlooked…well…there goes all that hard work you did.
To make sure this never happens, I created this printable, which allows me to keep all of my application deadlines in one place. This printable is also great because it allows me to see what each application requires, so that I can make sure I have collected any required materials (such as recommendations or transcripts) before the deadline arrives; there is another versions of this printable (printable #3 on the list) that has an additional notes section, if you’d prefer that one instead.
2nd Tab: Applications
The second tab is where I place all of my applications, no matter whether they are a paper application that I will need to send in, or just a document where I listed the information of an online scholarship. For competitions that will need a paper copy sent in, I place the application in a plastic page protector, because hole-punching the application can potentially cut out areas of necessary information.
For scholarships that will be submitted online, I will either copy/paste the essay prompt, deadline, web address, and other necessary information onto a document and print it out, or I will write it out on lined paper; any pre-writing for the competition will be put on the same paper.
Having hard copies of applications from online and real-world sources helps keep us organized, because we can put them all in one place, another deterrent against forgetting a deadline or competition. It is also important to note that these applications should be placed in order by their due date, as having them out-of-order can quickly become confusing.
3rd Tab: Essays
As you are applying for scholarships, it can be helpful to look back on your past essays to see what did and didn’t work, so that you can re-create what did work in your future essays. Occasionally, you can also adapt old essays for new competitions, so having them on hand in your scholarship binder for reference is crucial. (Just make sure that whichever scholarship you had formerly applied to allows this; some scholarship competitions claim the rights to all essays submitted.)
To keep all of the essays organized into whether they won, lost, or were never entered is where the manila folders come in. Using the manila folders, you can organize your printed essays into these folders–which are labeled Won, Lost, and Other–that are placed within the “Essays” tab of your binder.
Believe me, as organized and as efficient as you may be, you may not always get to finish that essay or get to submit it in time. I once wrote an entire essay only to discover that there was no place to submit it on the sponsors website! Instead of trashing these essays, I keep them for future use. Plus, if there is a consistent pattern between your winning scholarship essays—such as a certain essay format or a story that you use—using this organization makes it easier to recognize that pattern and use it for future essays.
4th Tab: Portfolio
This section of the binder is where you keep track of your student activities, average number of job/volunteer hours, leadership positions, honors/awards/recognitions, etc. With each item, write down a thorough description of what you did in each one, as you may forget some of the details a few years down the road.
Having a pre-created list means that you just have to do the work once, and then save time by copying and pasting this information into your scholarship applications. This can not only save you time, but also a lot of stress.
5th Tab: Additional Materials
This is the tab where you will keep additional materials that applications may ask for. It is good practice to have several copies of each on hand, even if you are not currently applying to a scholarship that requires them, so that a deadline does not roll around and you find yourself one-item short and unable to submit it in time.
These additional materials may include:
- Official and/or Unofficial Transcripts
- Recommendation Letters
- Copies of College Acceptance Letters (for high school seniors)
- Letters of Good Standing (for college students)
Having a scholarship binder has helped me apply to multiple scholarships at a time, along with winning several of them! By creating a scholarship binder yourself, you will have all of your resources in one place, and make the application process feel much less overwhelming, and it can even help you win more over time! I’ve also created blog posts on How to Create a Scholarship Portfolio, How to Apply to Scholarships (the right way), Where to Find Scholarships, and What to do After You Win a Scholarship!