The term “scholarship” evokes an assortment of definitions and misunderstandings. Scholarships are not only for the valedictorians and star athletes, but for regular students with some unique qualifications. They’re availabel for every area of study imaginable, from art schools to zoology. They typically fall into two categories: 1) need-based or 2) merit-based.

Need-based scholarships are more often than not determined by the student’s EFC. Outside of the college, many scholarship foundations will want your prospective school’s financial aid office to provide them with your EFC or at least answer some questions about your family’s financial situation. As we’ve stated many times throughout this site, eligibility requirements can vary quite a bit among financial aid programs. Just because a student meets the eligibility requirements, does not guarantee them the scholarship. Consult the source of the scholarship for their application procedures.

Merit-based scholarships are typically based on a student’s talent or academic prowess. However, other things like the leadership ability, moral character and involvement in extracurricular activities can warrant scholarship accessibility. While a family’s financial situation could impact merit-based eligibility, usually it does not.

Scholarship Resources

There is no shortage of places to find information about different college scholarship opportunities. The internet has made finding scholarships a snap! In fact, there are several free services that will allow you to simply enter some information about yourself and the database will locate scholarships that match your profile. Check these out:

In addition to these scholarship search engines, be sure and visit the websites of large companies, colleges, high schools and different charitable organizations. Sometimes you have to dig a little. But the information is there.

Check these other resources, too:

Once you’ve located possible scholarship opportunities, it’s time to apply. All scholarship applications will require you to tell something about yourself. Some ask for greater detail than others. But the important thing to remember is to spend your time wisely. Apply for those scholarships that afford you the best opportunity to win. Most of all…make a great first impression. To do that, follow those helpful hints:

  • Be neat. This is especially important if you’re completing a paper application. But either online or on paper, you always want to be tidy and get the most out of the space you have. Make sure your information flows and is easy to scan. Colleges and scholarship foundations have to weed through untold numbers of applications.
  • Be original. Don’t just state the facts…give meaning behind the facts. If you’re applying for a scholarship for veterinary technician schools, don’t just say you like animals. Tell how you came to love animals and what things along the way have reinforced that feeling or belief.
  • Be timely. A deadline is a deadline. If a scholarship has a deadline of March 15th, guess how many applications come in that day? Don’t get lost in the crowd. Stay ahead of the curve and apply early.
  • Be mistake-free. Grammatical errors, incorrect punctuation, illegible handwriting are all examples of careless mistakes that can cost you a scholarship. Take your time and have someone who writes well to look at your application before you send it.
  • Be bold. Sometimes it’s hard to toot your own horn. But in the case of scholarships, bold is better. You want to let the scholarship committees or judges know as much about you as you can. Don’t be modest…the committees and judges want to know!
  • Be more than academic. Grades are important, but so are extracurricular activities, too. Many scholarships are constructed to reward people with unique characteristics…not just good grades. Be sure to highlight things such as sports, musical talents, club memberships, church involvement, etc.
  • Be optimistic. Having a good attitude about your scholarship potential will come through in your application. Know that you’re just as qualified as anyone else applying for this scholarship.

A lot of scholarships will ask for recommendation letters to accompany or support your application. Very often, this is what separates a good candidate from a great candidate. Recommendation letters should speak to your abilities and your capabilities. Follow these guidelines when you’re asked to provide such a letter:

  • Give the person who will be writing the letter as much advance notice as you can. You want them at their best, too. It’s also the courteous thing to do.
  • Reassure the writer to be honest and speak from the heart. You don’t want a love poem written about you. You want something that speaks about your character.
  • Let the writer know exactly what they need to do and provide them with a self-addressed, stamped envelope if the letter has to be sent by mail.
  • Make sure the writer knows what you’re hoping to accomplish with this letter. Give them ideas about what to discuss by letting them know of recent accomplishments, extracurricular activities, awards, etc.
  • Try to use people who can speak to your integrity and know you well.
  • Don’t use relatives…unless your uncle is the local Congressman.

Now that your applications have been received and your recommendation letters are on file, that’s it…right? Not always. Many colleges and foundations will want to interview you for the more prestigious, high dollar scholarships. Scholarship interviews are usually done in mass with other prospective applicants on-site for the same reason. If you have the chance, mingle and introduce yourself to some of the other candidates. You’ll be surprised who’s watching. Plus, it’s a great ice-breaker and let’s you know that everyone here is human. Here are some other practical pointers:

  • Be prompt. If you’re late, what does that say about you?
  • Be well-rested. You’ll need to be sharp during the interview. That’s hard to do if you’re body is not rested.
  • Be well-groomed. This should not be a surprise, but your first impression consists not only of the first words you speak, but how you look. When in doubt, it’s better to overdress than to underdress. Be comfortable, but present yourself accordingly. A tie for boys and a dress for girls is the norm.
  • Know your audience. If you’re interview is with the college, it might be a good idea to visit the school’s website before going. Know something about the school other than you want their money. The same goes for a foundation or company that might ask for an interview. If the company makes tires, it might be a good idea to know something about the tire industry.
  • Again…be bold. There’s a difference between being cocky and being bold. Bold exudes confidence while cocky comes across as offensive and superficial. Practice on a friend and see what they say.

Apply for Scholarships

One of the crucial steps in obtaining scholarships comes after finding the award that matches a person’s qualifications and needs. When a student is ready to apply for scholarships they should be prepared to answer all the questions and to provide all the additional material. Items that are requested as part of a scholarship application vary for each financial aid award and sometimes for each institution. The student should also anticipate questions regarding extracurricular activities. Often, students must be nominated by a faculty member of their current schools before submitting applications and in some cases the school itself must turn in the application.

Scholarship Application Requirements

The most common supplemental materials that are needed to apply for scholarships include transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation, and the application for the scholarship. Transcripts are important when committees are evaluating applications even when they are not necessarily looking for the best grades or study habits. Transcripts can indicate academic potential or demonstrate the consistency of school work done by students over a period of time. The essay portion of a scholarship application is what distinguishes one applicant from all the others. The essay is intended to show the unique characteristics and opinions, and also the personal goals of the student. An objective opinion of the applicant is also expected when students apply for scholarships and is usually asked for in the form of at least one letter of recommendation from a non-relative, such as a teacher or employer. The scholarship application will commonly require a list of extracurricular activities. This list should be organized and thorough, including not only the activities but the role the student had in each of them. This helps in the selection of students who show the most promise of leadership and contribution to the community.

For scholarships that require nominations, students should inquire with the school about application procedures.

Scholarship Application

When filling out a scholarship application, knowing what may be asked for, such as essays, supplemental materials, and even the types of questions on the application can make the process less intimidating as well as less time consuming. However, preparation goes beyond knowing about various questions and items that are part of an application; organization can minimize both time spent filling out an application and the confusion that may arise when applying for several scholarships.

Scholarship Application Tips

Before attempting to fill out any applications, a list of all items that will be needed, with a note of the deadline, should be attached to each application. Lists should also be made of all achievements, activities, and interests. Inevitably, when completing a scholarship application, questions regarding awards, activities, and hobbies will be asked. It is very important to include all relevant honors that one has received and having a list already made will diminish the chance of leaving out any crucial information. Scholarships can be highly competitive, so nothing should be left out. Lists of all volunteer experience and community service should be available to refer to, including dates of service, the name of the organization, and responsibilities of the applicant. Hobbies and interests should be given a lot of thought and listed as well, as they can be determining factors if they are true passions and pertain to future career plans.

Once a scholarship application is completely filled out, at least one copy should be made. This could be beneficial if the scholarship does not make it to its destination, because the copy will be ready to send in its place. In anticipation of this happening, all applications should be sent by certified mail, to insure notification of arrival.

Finally, never forget financial aid deadlines and send scholarship applications in at least two weeks prior to that date.

Scholarship Renewal

So many students are finally relieved when they are offered a scholarship and start college. The search for financial aid for college seems to be over, and it may be if the students have received full four-year scholarships. However, this is not frequently the case. It is important to be aware of the terms of scholarship renewal. Some scholarships are awarded for only one year, with no option of renewal, while others are awarded initially for one year, with renewal dependent on specific criteria.

Scholarship Renewal Requirements

One common requirement for scholarship renewal is maintaining a certain grade point average. Dropping just one tenth of a point can mean the end of all financial assistance. Another condition for scholarship renewal is often the obligation to attend a required number of classes or to earn a certain number of credits each semester. This is especially important to remember if a student is considering dropping a class to avoid failing. While they may keep their GPA high, they may fall short of the required amount of courses specified for continuance of the scholarship.

Athletic scholarships and scholarships awarded specifically for study in certain fields are only renewable if the students continue to play the sport or remain in that area of study, in most cases. Before accepting an athletic scholarship it is wise to inquire about the rules regarding injuries and other factors that may keep an athlete from participating in a sport, and how these circumstances may affect the renewal of the scholarship. Similarly, recipients of scholarships for specified areas of study should know the consequences regarding scholarship renewal if they decide to change majors.

There are a few final points to keep in mind about renewing scholarships: remember to reapply, have all progress reports available, and do not miss the deadline.

Scholarship Scams

One of the most discouraging aspects of starting college is figuring out how to pay for it. Hundreds of thousands of families each year struggle with the reality of college tuition and are unfamiliar with all the programs that are available for needy students. Scholarship scams are the last thing students and their parents should be faced with, but over $100 million is lost due to this kind of fraud every year.

Scholarship Fraud Red Flags

There are a few clear signs to look out for to guard against fraudulent financial aid offers. First of all, scholarships are free, so there should be no cost to apply for or find a scholarship. Scholarship scams will almost always involve paying some kind of fee up front. Many matching services out there offer to find scholarships for a fee. The same scholarships that the service would find are available for everyone to discover if they just look in the right place. Free resources are at hand for anyone to search for scholarships. High school counselors and financial aid officers have access to numerous lists of scholarships and will share them with students at no cost. Additionally, the local library can be used to research scholarships, so never turn to a scholarship matching service to find a scholarship. Another sign to look for in scholarship scams is the assertion that there are private scholarships that are neglected to be used every year. Private scholarships are funded by organizations for specific people, qualifications, and academic fields. These kinds of scholarships are, in fact, very limited. Be suspicious of anyone who asks for money to help find unused private scholarships. If anyone asks for a fee up front, or bank account or credit card numbers, check with the Better Business Bureau and report all scholarship scams to the National Fraud Information Center.