Tips for Landing a Scholarship for College

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With the cost of college rising faster than inflation, many students rely on scholarships to help fund tuition. But with the student population steadily growing, the competition has intensified.

According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and author of Secrets to Winning a Scholarship, one in 10 students pursuing a bachelor’s degree on a full- time basis win a scholarship with the average award amounting between $2,500 and $2,800.

“With only 10% of students winning scholarships, not every student is going to win,” he says. “If you're a more talented student, you are more likely to win.”

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But even the most talented-filled students can be passed over if they don’t present themselves well. Here are some tips that scholarship experts say can put you ahead of the competition.

High school students should start their scholarship search before their senior year to yield more options. By starting early, underclassmen can prepare for senior scholarships and may be eligible for certain scholarships designated for younger high school students.

“If they see what’s available when they are sophomores and juniors, they still have time to up their GPA, join activities, or get the type of experience that some scholarships may be looking for, such as community service and volunteering,” advises Janine Fugate, assistant vice president of communications at Scholarship America.

And don’t stop your quest for monetary aid once your own campus; you can land scholarships well into college and even graduate school.

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“Some scholarship providers only put money out there once you hit a certain milestone, such as you have 30 credits at the college level and you have a 3.0 [GPA],” says Lori Grandstaff, co-founder of “They want to make sure they're putting their money into a student who is a viable candidate for a degree instead of putting money into a beginning freshman.”

Finding and securing a scholarship is no easy feat, but investing your time now can pay off in the future.

“We recommend that students find five to 10 scholarships each month to try for; putting a few hours in to this process each month will likely have some positive results,” says Grandstaff.

And don’t be scared of a little extra work. According to Grandstaff, scholarships that require extra work, such as a 250-word essay, have significantly lower responses than a simple scholarship process.

To help write essays and fill out forms seeking your accomplishments, Kantrowitz suggests creating an accomplishments resume that lists hobbies, awards and volunteering experiences. Visualizing your experiences can help you when answering more in-depth scholarship applications that ask for more than just the basics.

“People who answer all of the optional questions will match twice as many awards as students who answer only required questions,” says Kantrowitz.

An essay can be a great way to show your personality to the scholarship sponsors and tout your uniqueness.

There are thousands of students with similar grades and test scores applying for the same scholarship--your essay can be the tipping point, says Grandstaff.

A good opening sentence can also leave a lasting impression with scholarship committees.

“Anything that you can do in the first sentence, the first paragraph, or the opening page of whatever it is that you're submitting, stands a better chance of getting recognition and making a memorable impression in the mind of the committee member that’s reviewing that application,” says Grandstaff.

Kantrowitz suggests writing about something you are passionate about, even if that means taking a few risks, within reason.

“It's okay to be a little bit controversial, but try to avoid the topics that are really polarizing or that people have opinions about that will be swayed by reading it,” he says.

Your image lives beyond just the pages of a scholarship application and students need to be cautious of what they post online, especially on Facebook and Twitter.

“Students should take applying for scholarships as seriously as applying for college or a job,” says Fugate.

Kantrowitz points out that in most cases, sponsors give students money with no strings attached, and that having a professional appearance is the very least a candidate can do.

“A student in some sense represents the organization and they're not going to want to award money to a student who doesn't have good sense with regard to how they portray themselves,” he says.

Grandstaff also cautions against using a personal e-mail address for scholarship applications if your address comes across as immature or contains inappropriate language.

To keep it simple, create an e-mail address containing your first and last name.

“We certainly tell students to be careful of their e-mail address when you're applying for a scholarship so that there's no bias in the scholarship committee's interpretation of what's on their application,” she says.

Kantrowitz points out scholarship competitions can be cutthroat, and that you will most likely get more rejections than wins. Don’t get discouraged, there are many opportunities out there and casting a wide net can be in your favor.

“Even among the qualified applicants, there are so many qualified applicants that your chances of winning a scholarship are like a roll of the dice--sometimes it's completely random who wins and who doesn't,” he says. “The more scholarships you apply to for which you are qualified, the greater your chances for winning one.”

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