One of the biggest hurdles every student has to conquer is the growing cost of college. However, earning my degree has been my goal since I was a kid, so to make this dream a reality, I decided to apply to as many scholarships as I could. However, the massive amount of applications became chaotic so quickly, that I decided to come up with an organization method for them that would allow me to apply to dozens of scholarships quickly and easily. After a few failed attempts, I finally developed one: the scholarship binder. My scholarship binder has been so essential to my scholarship application process that I doubt I would have accomplished as much without it. This post breaks down everything you need to know to organize your scholarship binder, along with free printables to keep track of your progress.
- A 1-inch binder
- Binder Dividers/Tabs
- Plastic page protectors
- Manilla folders, 3-hole punched
- FREE Scholarship Organizer Printables (click here to download)
This is the area that comes before any of the tabs, which is very important because it is where you place the Applied Scholarships Printable.
This printable allows you to easily track the scholarships you applied to, when you applied, the announcement date, how much the scholarship is worth, and whether you won or lost. Plus, opening up the binder and seeing a list of the scholarships that you have applied to is extremely motivating. I suggest keeping this printable in a plastic page protector and pull it out whenever you need to add something to it.
Behind the Applied Scholarships printable (and before the 1st tab) is up to you. Personally, it is where I keep my scholarship notes and research (such as how to write the best scholarship essay). I suggest doing something similar, as scholarship essays are extremely different from academic essays as you are more focused showcasing your individuality and goals rather than academic research.
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 when you’re busy with school, homework, a job, or even other scholarship applications. When deadlines are overlooked and forgotten…well…there goes all that hard work you did.
To make sure this never happens, I created the scholarship deadlines printable, which keeps all of your application deadlines in one list. This printable is also great because it allows you to see what each application requires, so that you can make sure you have collected any required materials (such as recommendations or transcripts) before the deadline arrives; there is another version of this printable (the third printable in the download) that has an additional notes section, if you’d prefer that one instead.
2nd Tab: Applications
The second tab is where you will place your scholarship applications, no matter whether they are a paper application that you will need to send in or just a documentation of an online scholarship. For scholarships that will need a paper copy sent in, place the application in a plastic page protector and place it in this section; hole-punching the application can potentially cut out areas of necessary information and potentially looks unprofessional when sent in.
For scholarships that will be submitted online, copy and paste the essay prompt, deadline, web address, and other necessary information onto a document and print it out. Although you will still be submitting it online, doing it this way gives you an opportunity to see all applications in one place. It also gives you a place to do some pre-writing for the essay prompt (if applicable).
Having hard copies of both online and in-print applications in one place will keep you organized, deterring you from forgetting a deadline or competition.
I also suggest placing these applications in order by their due date to give you a better sense of the timeline when they’re each due.
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 apply 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. To keep your essays organized, hole-punch 3 manila folders and place them in this tab, labeling them Won, Lost, and Other. After each competition, place the essays you wrote in this tab (I usually place them in between the 3rd tab and the start of the Won tab), then once you find out the results of the scholarship competition you can move them into the appropriate manila folder. This organization method will make it easier to spot patterns between winning and losing essays.
The Other tab is used for essays that were never completed or submitted and can be recycled for use in another scholarship competition. This can happen more often then you’d think, no matter how organized and as efficient as you may be. For example, I once wrote an entire essay only to discover that there was no place to submit it on the sponsors website! Instead of trashing this essay, I kept it for future use in the Other tab, which is a good organization practice to start, even if you don’t have any un-submitted essays yet.
4th Tab: Portfolio
This section of the binder is where you keep track of your student activities, number of job/volunteer hours, leadership positions, honors/awards/recognitions, etc.
With each item, write down a thorough description of what you did for each activity (or the criteria for earning the award or position), as you may forget some of the details a few years down the road. Along with having this list in your binder, keep a copy of it on your computer or thumb drive so you can update it as necessary.
Having this pre-created portfoilo saves a lot of time and stress as you only have to do the work once. After creating your portfolio, all you have to do is copy-and-paste the information into your future scholarship applications.
5th Tab: Additional Materials
In this tab you will keep the additional materials that scholarship 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
- I recommend having several different recommendation letters in your binder, including ones from employers, professors/teachers outside of your major and professors/teachers from within your major; I also suggest having a recommendation letter from the head of your department.
- Some scholarship sponsors will be specific as to who they want the recommendation letter to be from, so having a variety to choose from in a moments notice is essential.
- Copies of College Acceptance Letters (for high school seniors)
- Letters of Good Standing (for college students)
- Cover Letter
- This is another one where it’s a good idea to have the item written beforehand, even if you don’t need it yet. (Similar to the honors/activities portfolio.) You can then use it as a template and change out the information based on what scholarship you are applying to, yet you won’t have to write a new letter from scratch every time you need to submit a cover letter. This will save you time on your scholarship applications.
Creating and organizing your scholarship binder will place all of your resources in one place and make the application process feel much less overwhelming. With all of your materials ready and at your disposal, it can drastically decrease the amount of time and stress you spend on each application.
For additional information on scholarships, check out these 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!