Over $6 billion in scholarship funds go unclaimed each year because students miss the deadline or never even apply. With student debt being such an issue, especially in the U.S. you would think this $6 billion would be snatched up in a heartbeat. There's tons of money out there, even if you don't have an impressive ACT/SAT score. Let me walk you through the basics on scholarships, whether you're still in high school or already into your college career, there are scholarships for you!
The thing with scholarships is you should expect a lot of work. For me, this means spending my day off at a coffee shop with a large latte light. You can usually expect to write a 1,000+ word essay along with submitting recommendation letters and your official college or high school transcript.
Tips for Scholarships
STEP 1: ALWAYS meet the Priority Deadlines, NOT the Final Deadlines
When you wait that extra month to submit scholarship applications and put it off, you may think you were on time, but technically, you were late. The priority deadlines have the most funding. The final deadline is practically the leftovers, what money that hasn't been given away during the first round of scholarship interviews. So set your priorities straight and meet the priority deadlines. Mark it on your calendar and get everything in advance.
STEP 2: Send 1 more rec letter than what's required
Though it sounds like a bit more trouble, it shows you're a student that goes the extra mile. Also, try to choose not just adults that like you (obviously) but show that you're well rounded. When I applied for my scholarship at UALR, I asked for rec letters from my boss at work, my youth pastor, and my AP English teacher. This showed my interviewer I had a great work ethic at school and at work and was also a leader in the community as well. It also gave me a range of choices if that one letter you're counting on either doesn't come through or doesn't quite flatter you as you expected.
STEP 3: Know the difference between renewable and non-renewable scholarships
This is the money you have to reapply for each year. Whether it's the FAFSA, local, or private scholarships, this type of money you can not just get the scholarship back each year, but receive others as well. If your current scholarship is set for you to receive a set amount of money each year or semester then you won't have to worry about renewing it by keeping up your GPA and hours taken per semester.
STEP 4: Don't blow off writing your 'financial need statement'
This part of applying for the scholarship may seem like a given, "I NEED MONEY!", not nonetheless, put effort into your financial needs statement just as you did for all those scholarship essays. Mine goes something like this...
"During my college career at UALR, my academics have been my first priority despite having two jobs and taking 18 hours. This has meant sacrificing work hours to make time for my studies and balance my roles on campus as a mentor for the Chancellor's Leadership scholars program and an Orientation Leader that have added to my workload. Receiving a scholarship would allow me more time to further my studies rather than time spent at work. I look forward to eventually having the means to give back to UALR and fund its students as I reach my goals in the workforce."
I listed my jobs, academic workload, community service, and roles I play on campus -not just as a student in the classroom. This is also a place to mention if you're a single parent or first generation college student.
STEP 5: Build your resumé and always send it in
Even if they don't ask for it, just send it. Once again, it's going the extra mile. If the scholarship is narrowed down to the final two and you have the resumé that lets them know much more about your character, they're very likely to chose you over the other. I have a whole other article on resumé building if you're interested.
So what money's out there for me?!
Now that I've covered some basic steps on having success with scholarships, let's get to the good stuff...MONEY! There are scholarships for being short (no I don't qualify), first generation college students, minority students, or even having a reading disability. You know what's sad? Over $6 BILLION dollars in scholarships go unclaimed each year. Because no one is applying for them! Crazy right?! Don't let that be you... keep reading.
If you are or (eventually) will be a high school senior...
Two words: local scholarships. And don't tell your friends. Seriously. They're just more competition (I know that's harsh but I like money). Local scholarships are exactly what they sound like- local. I grant you permission to skip class for a quick trip to your schools counselors office. They should have forms that should be easily accessible for students from local businesses, churches, and memorial funds.
I got three of these my senior year of high school. There are many different types... some depend on the elementary or middle school you attended, I also received the Bryant Athletic Scholarship and one from a local business. These totaled to $2,000 in checks that I could cash for any college purchases. I upgraded from a MacBook Air to a Pro with a Retina display.
Look to start applying for these scholarships around February or March of your senior year, but it doesn't hurt to start asking your counselor about them beforehand! Another great resource for high school students is your career counselor. Seek your school faculty advice and take it to heart! They truly care.
Already enrolled in college? Don't worry, there's more money out there!
It sure felt great to graduate high school and know that I was done applying for scholarships!
Just kidding! Most people are, but if you're smart with scholarships, you'll know that the job is never quite done! There are always more scholarships to apply for! To list a few....
- Departmental Scholarships
These you'll find with the academic department you declared your major in. You usually have to reapply for these scholarships each year during the spring semester, so start asking your department about them come March or April. These can be a large variety of amounts from a few hundred to several thousand. Each scholarship depends on the amount of funding available and which department you're in (ex: business will most likely have more money than the education department). There's always a fun, fancy lunch for all the scholarship recipients. I got one this year and two last year... you never know what you're going to get 'til you apply, so get to it! :)
- Alumni Scholarships
I've never had much luck with these and personally think they're the hardest to get! However, if you're lucky, each scholarship is a big chunk of change. I had to write two LONG essays and a financial statement for these.
- Private Scholarships
At my college, these require another essay, but here's a tip. Usually, essays with assigned topics can be similar. Just use the same essay you wrote for the alumni scholarship and make some changes. Also use your resources (as I said in a previous post) and take it by the writing center for some free critiquing.
- Honors Program Scholarships
Depending on what your college offers, some majors have an honors program. Public relations at UALR doesn't unfortunately or I'd be all over this! For the UALR English Department, for example, we have The Cooper Honors Program. Though it's hard to get into with some stiff competition, this looks great on your resumé and is a couple thousand a year.
- Study Abroad Scholarships
If you plan on studying abroad for a summer four-week program, semester, or a full year, look into scholarships! Your study abroad office has teacher-affiliated scholarships, partner programs, and can even pay for your passport with a small scholarship. Read more about studying abroad here.
Other Resources for Scholarships
Though I've listed plenty of options to keep you busy for a few months, there are also online scholarships or business scholarships like Discover, Arvest, or the Coca-Cola scholarship. Before you do your application, don't waste your time and make sure you read the terms like if you have to be a graduating high school senior to apply or if you can be a current college student. Other popular websites for scholarships are Fastweb and Scholarships.
If you're aware of deadlines, use your resources, and follow these tips and steps, you're going to have some success with getting scholarships! Keep motivated and organized!