How to Apply for Scholarships - Some Simple Tips and Tricks

Let's just say right off that it is a very bad idea to attempt to find one "perfect" scholarship and subsequently devote all of your time and effort to winning it. A wise scholarship hunter finds all of the scholarships he or she is eligible for, and applies for a great number, if not all, of them. This is a smart angle for several reasons: 1. It's nearly impossible to secure for yourself a free ride. Most likely, you'll have to cobble together a number of loans, scholarships and other financial modes to lessen the sting of paying for college or graduate school. 2. The more lures you have, the better your chance at catching the fish. Not a valedictorian? Don't fret; there are scholarships abound for non-vals, most of which target people with a particular skill, interest or background, from Portland-area playwrights to tennis-playing Tunisians. Where to start? Are you an international student? There are scholarships for you too. After digging up what you can, begin looking elsewhere, and appreciate the fact that you are literally surrounded by scholarship opportunities. Check with your state of residence as well as the state of the institution you're planning on attending for any grants or scholarships offered. Check with local professional organizations, neighborhood and civic groups, churches et cetera. Call the admissions office of the schools you're applying to, and see what they have up their sleeves. Talk to your guidance counselor if you're in high school, or your faculty advisor, if you're in college. Once you've found a few attractive, winnable scholarships, start requesting those applications and you'll be well on the way. One last thing though, don't apply for anything you're either unqualified for, or "sorta" qualified for. As long as there is someone qualified, all your effort will be fruitless. While the old Hail Mary Pass is attractive, it's always wiser to stick to the scholarships you can win.

Filling Out the Application

Once you've unearthed the scholarships you'd like to apply for, it's time to request all the necessary information to get the ball rolling towards its final goal of a drastically cheapened tuition bill. There are a few acceptable ways of doing this, depending on the scholarship organization: you may be able to email a request, call for one, or write a letter. If you write a letter, all rules of formality apply. Keep it brief, keep it professional and follow standard business letter protocol:

  • Date
  • Name, address and title of person to whom you're writing
  • Salutation (Dear Ms./Mr.___)
  • Body: introduce yourself and your educational background, briefly give your reasons for applying and tell where you heard about the scholarship. Keep it short.
  • "Thank You" and "Sincerely"
  • Your name and address

Once the blank applications start pouring in, it's time to organize things. Write up a chart or spreadsheet listing the various application deadlines and the requirements of each scholarship: essays, transcripts, references et cetera. It's crucial you keep tabs on all this stuff, lest you end up scrambling to coordinate the materials at the last minute, shouting, yanking at your hair and so forth. In this case, a little work will save a lot of work -- and possibly a full-bore nervous breakdown. Next, start getting your secondary materials in order: references, and samples of your work -- if required by the scholarship board -- transcripts, standardized test scores and whatever else you need. Take whichever test you need to take (SAT, GRE, LSAT et cetera) far in advance, so if you need to improve your score you'll have time to retake the test, and have the scores ready for your applications. Also, if you are applying for need-based scholarships, you'll need to have income and tax forms together to demonstrate a need for financial aid. Get those well in advance. With that stuff out of the way, it's time to set upon that pile of applications sitting on your desk/table/ottoman/lap.

A few general tips before you get started:

  • Type your application, but be sure to work out a draft on a separate piece of paper (preferably a photocopy of the application form, so you get a sense of the space you have) before committing your answers to the application itself. This way you'll avoid having to dip it in White-Out before sending it in.
  • Fill out the entire application. One of the best ways to get disqualified right out of the gate is to neglect to answer every question and check every requisite box. Follow instructions closely.
  • Photocopy the whole of the application for your records, in case something happens to the original.
  • Clearly print your name and social security number on each page of the application, references, transcripts and essay, in case of staple failure.
  • If you have any questions, call the scholarship foundation for answers. Don't worry, they won't think any less of you for it.