When it comes to finances, applying to college can be stressful for college students. Loans can deter students from shooting for schools that are a bit out of their price range, as they hope to avoid future student debt. However, there is a free way to finance your college years: apply for scholarships. There are hundreds of them out there, and you are bound to find a few that you could qualify for — it will just take some digging and a solid scholarship application.
Filling out scholarship applications on top of college applications sounds like a drag, and is definitely a lot of work, but if you can push through, it will be worth it when you land that scholarship that will send you to your dream school. Keep in mind that these applications and the stress that comes with them will only last a short few months, but your college education will give you the future you deserve for years and years to come.
Since you are going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to researching scholarships that fit you, this article will serve to ease the rest of the scholarship application process by giving you a general checklist to follow as you are about to apply to scholarships and also to reference when in the middle of the process.
- Letter of recommendation
Not every scholarship application is going to require a letter of recommendation, but it is always better to be over prepared than to not bother getting a letter of recommendation and then realizing you need one when it’s too late to request one.
Try to obtain letters from two trusted people, just to be safe. Ask a teacher who knows you and your achievements well, a supervisor at a job or volunteer position, a coach, or someone in the professional world whom you know quite well (but don’t use family members with your same last name). Supply the person or two that you ask with a “brag sheet” where you list all of your accomplishments and why you are a fit for the said scholarship you are applying to.
This step is the first one for a reason: do it in advance! You can’t go up to your teacher and say, “Would you mind writing me a letter of rec? I need it for an application that is due tomorrow.” Chances are, they will not fulfill your last minute request, and you will be the one who suffers for it.
Give your person at least a month to write your letter, so they have time to think about what to say, and you have time to make sure that they finish before you start stressing about the deadline.
Scholarships are usually awarded to those who excel in school, meaning you’ll have to supply your transcript to prove you are worthy of the reward. However, you can’t just log on to your high school’s website and print out the transcript listed there — you need an official copy. To get your official transcript, you have to go through the Registrar’s office or talk to your counselor.
With this, just like the first step, make sure to give yourself plenty of time, since these orders don’t get filled nearly as quickly as they should. I remember when I was applying to colleges and my request for my transcripts somehow got lost, and luckily I checked back with enough time or I might have lost my spot at UC Santa Cruz. Don’t let a timing issue be the reason you don’t get a scholarship; make sure to plan ahead and order more transcripts than you need.
- Cover letter
Scholarship committees want to know about you and why you are a good fit for them, so your cover letter is your chance to make yourself stand out and to highlight all of your attributes for why you deserve their money. Make sure you are not simply creating one cover letter and using it to apply for different scholarships. A lot of the time, they have specific things they want to see, so you need to go through and personalize each cover letter to the scholarship you are applying for.
Double check you are sending each letter to the right place to avoid an embarrassing mix-up! Also, make sure to have another pair of eyes look at your cover letter before you send it, so you can avoid any spelling or grammatical mistakes that you didn’t catch during your proofreading round.
Scholarship applications include many steps but organizations aren’t just going to give their money out to any random person. Half of the process is seeing if you were diligent and determined enough to give it your all through the application steps, so keep your eye on the prize and bust that essay out!
Like the cover letter, you want to make sure you personalize your essay towards the scholarship you are applying for. The scholarship essay evaluators have seen it all and will know if you are giving them a generic essay that you sent to other scholarships as well.
Get your essay done early so you can show it to one of your teachers and ask for some notes on it. This seems like a daunting task, but your teachers want you to do well and have been at this for a while, so they might know what necessary tweaks you should make to help you get that scholarship.
Some applications will ask you to include a small photo of yourself, and while it might seem silly to mention it, this does not mean that you can send a selfie to them. Make sure to send a professional picture (like your senior yearbook photo) that shows your college-ready side. You should try to make an impression and stand out, not have them laugh at your lack of seriousness when they receive an Instagram photo of you.
This checklist should get you through the bulk of any scholarship application, but remember to read all instructions carefully and include everything and anything that they require. Good luck scoring that money!