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There’s a common myth out there that a student can’t win a college or university scholarship unless they have perfect grades, a stellar extracurricular record, or some kind of extraordinary athletic ability. This just isn’t true. While good grades and extracurriculars always help, they are not necessary to win a scholarship opportunity.

Yes, average high school and undergraduate students can win scholarships!

The unfortunate thing is that many students never muster the courage to apply to scholarship competitions. At the same time, many scholarship prizes receive few or even no applicants! This means that there is some money out there that wants to be deposited into a student’s bank account, but no student comes forward to claim it. What a tragedy

Whether you’re a C student or an A+ student, you should definitely apply for scholarships. There are obvious benefits to your bank account, credit card, or student loan situation when you win a scholarship. However, there are many other benefits that few people discuss.

College and University scholarships for high school students, undergraduate students, and graduate students.

Scholarships: Money and More…

While financial awards are really nice, having a track record of winning scholarships is an asset that can help you distinguish yourself in competitive employment or academic opportunities. In other words, cash is good, but a track record of scholarship achievement is even better.

If you’re an average high school or college student looking to land a scholarship prize, here’s what you need to know to position yourself for success:

Know What Kind of Scholarships to Apply For

There are plenty of scholarships out there that are given away for an endless number of reasons. It’s important to know that not all scholarship competitions are based on grades. Often, you can tell what GPA you need to win a scholarship by examining a scholarship’s eligibility requirements.

A huge number of scholarships won’t have any GPA requirements, whereas merit-based scholarships that reward excellent academic achievements will. If you don’t fit the criteria for awards that require a high GPA, don’t worry, there are other kinds of prizes that may suit you better.

For average students, it’s much more likely that you can win a prize from one of these scholarship types:

  • Needs-based scholarships: Scholarships and/or bursaries that are given to students mainly based on household income.
  • Student-specific scholarships: These scholarships are awarded to students for countless non-academic reasons. They are usually centered on identity traits. Some of these reasons include gender, race, religion, family, and medical history.
  • Career-specific scholarships: Scholarships that are given to students who follow a specific career path or who major in a particular field of study. For example, scholarships for engineering students, scholarships for math, etc. There are even specific scholarships for women in STEM.
  • School-specific scholarships: These prizes are awarded to students at a specific institution. You can usually find these awards on your online registrar’s page or in-person at your college registrar’s office or student financial aid office.
  • Brand scholarships: These are private scholarships given out by large brands/corporations to students who have a compelling story. They are given away for many reasons, so always check eligibility requirements.

What this all means is that if your grades aren’t great, you shouldn’t be deterred from finding and applying for scholarships. Think about what makes you unique and start there. If you do this, it will make you a highly relevant applicant and probably disqualify many other students who do not have the same interests, history, and profile.

Know Where to Look

Scholarship Databases

Knowing where to look for a scholarship is a big part of positioning yourself to win. Scholarship databases, like the free BridgesEDU Scholarship Finder, are great resources, but they shouldn’t be the only resource you consult. Indeed, you’ll find many scholarships for average students in a databases, however, it’s likely that these scholarship providers will get many applicants because they’re not that hard to find. More applicants means more competition.

Search Engines

One of the best ways to find lesser-known scholarships is to conduct independent searches via Google. If you do this correctly, you’ll be more likely to find scholarship awards that you can really compete for.

When looking for scholarships you can apply for online, try to think about the many characteristics that make you unique and conduct a scholarship search following those criteria. Since every college and university student is unique, it’s best to think about all of the angles that make up your student and personal profile and look for scholarships where other students won’t be looking.

For example, you can look for scholarships for high school students, international students, scholarships for students in particular bachelor degree programs or fields of study, like computer science, engineering, criminal justice, human resources, etc. While this list is far from complete, hopefully you get the picture.

It’s also important to note that while doing these searches for college scholarships, you should always navigate well beyond the first page of hits. Remember, a lot of other students will likely find these same scholarships, so continue to pages 2,3,4 and beyond!

Focus on What You Can Help

For students who don’t have near perfect grades or extracurricular activities that stand out, it’s important to focus on what you have control over in this moment when submitting scholarship applications.

At the top of this list is your scholarship essay, which is a major component of many scholarship contests. While you can’t go back in time and change your transcript, you still have complete autonomy over how your scholarship essay reads. Consequently, you should ensure that your essay is compelling and unique (remember, scholarships in many ways are essay contests). This is what scholarship committees are looking for.

In addition to having a strong personal statement or scholarship essay, always ensure that you hand in all required materials, that you meet all eligibility criteria, and that your work is fully edited with no obvious grammatical mistakes. Each of these items will get you a little closer to winning that scholarship money!

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Money matters. Scholarships can help diminish the burden of college or university tuition. With this in mind, you shouldn’t be deterred from applying for scholarship programs just because you’re not the best academic performer. 

Yes, scholarships can be competitive, but they are an investment in your future, and a worthwhile one at that!

Remember, there are plenty of scholarships for average students and you should apply.

Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve covered: 

  • Yes, average high school students, college, and university students can win scholarships.
  • There are many types of scholarships and knowing which ones to apply for can greatly increase your chances of winning a college scholarship.
  • Knowing where to look for scholarship opportunities can help you find prizes that are less advertised and less competitive. Focus on finding scholarships that are unique to your profile and always navigate past the first few pages of a search engine or scholarship database when researching potential scholarship awards.
  • You can’t go back in time and change parts of your student profile (e.g., grades, extracurricular activities), so focus on constructing the best possible personal statement and scholarship application. Focus on what you can control. 
  • Scholarships can help you avoid student loans, which you’ll have to pay back eventually. Scholarships are free money and help pay down student debt and the cost of college or university.

Christopher Grafos, Ph.D., is the founder and chief scholarship mentor at BridgesEDU Scholarships.

He’s a first-generation university graduate whose life was transformed by education and winning scholarships. 

Scholarships help students financially, but they also help advance a student’s career. It’s his life’s work to champion this message and share the secrets to finding and winning scholarships. 

Read more about Christopher’s journey here