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Scholarship Application Tips and Tricks

thank you to CollegeFinancialAdvisors.com for allowing me to reblog this valuable information!

DD is beginning her 6th year of college – yes, 6th. She is now working on a Masters Degree.  DH works at one of our local high schools with kids who are trying to be the first in their family to attend college.  Federal student loans seem to be more confusing and more expensive than ever.  All of this means we need more information about college scholarship. Money that neither students nor their parents have to pay back.

Angela Harrison from Central Scholarship (@CentralScholars) offers these scholarship application tips and tricks. Central Scholarship was founded in 1924 and awards over $1 million a year in scholarships and interest-free loans for vocational, undergraduate, and graduate/professional students. They screen student applications against dozens of scholarship opportunities according to criteria established by their donors.

To find scholarships Central Scholarship recommends that you ask guidance/financial aid counselors, teachers, coaches/club advisors, mentors, and employers (yours or your parent’s), because there are opportunities everywhere! They also recommend using an online scholarship-match service like zinch.com, where you fill out a profile, and they give you a list of scholarships that are good for you. States and government representatives often have scholarships for state residents. To find these, contact your state’s higher education agency, or use votesmart.org to find your elected officials.

High school students should start looking for scholarships EARLY! They should search the summer before their senior year, and create an application calendar to manage their deadlines. Don’t forget to keep looking for scholarships while in college. Opportunities are available year-round!

You should look locally for scholarships but don’t forget to widen your search too. Local scholarships usually have fewer applicants, which could mean a better chance of getting one, but they are usually for lower amounts of money. Local providers are usually familiar with your school and community organizations you’re involved with, which can be a big advantage for you. Regional or national scholarships, on the other hand, are more competitive because of the prestige and large sum of awards.

Be aware that some scholarships require you to fulfill certain conditions in college (GPA etc.) or after graduating (service/work). For example, the Federal TEACH Grant is a $4K scholarship for aspiring teachers, but you must repay it if you don’t become a teacher after graduation. Also, you may have to return funds to a scholarship provider if you drop out of school or fail to meet GPA requirements. Be sure to read your award letter, agreements, and other information carefully to know the terms of the award before you accept.

When it comes to the essay, some scholarships place less emphasis on it than others, but usually it is VERY important. It’s the only place where the scholarship committee gets to see YOU, and helps them to see if you’re the best fit. An essay may seem scary, but is a big opportunity! You don’t have to be Shakespeare; just answer the question clearly, be yourself, and proofread. Take risks, show—don’t tell, and find your “hook.” Don’t just spellcheck—PROOFREAD. Read it aloud. Have a friend/parent/teacher read it. Make sure it says what you want it to say.

There are a few scholarship scam red flags. You can also look for past winners, and find out how the scholarships are funded. Try to contact the organization—if no contact information is provided, that’s a red flag! Be wary of applications that ask for personal info (SSN, driver’s license). These are not necessarily scams—but you should ask why they require it.

The most common application mistake is not completing the application! Make sure you answer all the required questions. If the application is online, don’t try to submit it five minutes before the deadline. They can tell if you are filling out the application on your phone because there are autocorrect and formatting problems. Use a library/school computer if you have to. Online-form errors are also very common—choosing the wrong school or state in a dropdown menu, etc. Proofread the ENTIRE APPLICATION, not just your essay!

Finally Angela reminds students that you can’t get a scholarship if you don’t apply. The odds are tough in the scholarship world, but don’t talk yourself out of applying. Don’t give up, even if you don’t win! Reapply again next year with organizations that rejected you. This shows persistence, and you might be a better candidate the second time around!