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Before I ever won a scholarship, I sincerely believed that winning an award wasn’t possible for me. 

I remember thinking, “what could I possibly write in an essay that would convince someone to give me money for school?”

I had so much self-doubt. “Scholarships are only for students with better grades than me,” I thought. 

I was in a common trap. I believed my chances of winning a scholarship were zero percent because I just wasn’t good enough. 

During a time of financial hardship, I saw an advertisement on my university campus that said, “Scholarships”. I needed financial aid, so I went for it. I went to my university registrar and asked about scholarships I could apply for. Surprisingly, I won money quite quickly. As the funds rolled in, I had simultaneous feelings of regret and empowerment. 

Regret, because I should have applied to more scholarship programs, and sooner! Empowerment because I was finally free from the thing that initially prevented me from applying for scholarships: my insecurity. 

From Personal Experience: The Best Tips to Overcome the Most Common Obstacles to Winning Scholarships

Since the moment above, I’ve won a lot of scholarship and grant money. And I wish I knew then what I know now. Of course, until someone invents a time machine, that’s not possible. 

So, the next best thing is to share this information with others. I hope that this information helps you overcome the challenges of winning scholarships and encourages you to apply for as many scholarships as possible, as soon as possible. 

Below, I’m sharing the top obstacles I personally faced. These are the same lessons I’ve shared with students I’ve coached, some of whom have won prizes ranging from $500 up to beyond $100K. 

If you’re aware of the challenges you can expect to encounter on your scholarship journey, you’ll be more likely to overcome them. Believe me, if I can do it, you can, too. 

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

Scholarship Applications Take Too Much Time

When I speak with students, one of the biggest obstacles I hear is that scholarship applications take too much time. First, you have to find scholarships. Then figure out how to create a great application. Of course, submission requirements differ, so you may have to write an essay, get a letter of recommendation, and potentially hand in other required materials. 

It sounds daunting. However, here’s the thing. 

When I wrote my first scholarship application, it took me a while. But, without exaggerating, I got to a point where I could easily create between two and five applications in a week. It’s because I had learned the real secrets of scholarship applications

When you know what a winning formula to a scholarship committee looks like, time becomes way less of an issue

It was true for me and it’s true for most of my students. 

“I’m Not a Perfect Applicant, I’m Never Going to Win”: Only Stellar Students Win Scholarships

Another significant obstacle students face is a particular idea about scholarships that just isn’t true. One of the biggest myths related to scholarships is that you need to be a perfect student to win one. This misconception hurt my chances of winning more scholarships. 

It’s important to begin your scholarship process with a realistic mindset. To start, you should know that you’re capable of winning a scholarship. There is an endless number of scholarships in existence and many of them are not focused on grades. Believe it or not, there are millions of dollars every year that go unrewarded because selection committees receive no applicants for various types of scholarships. 

Moreover, you should know that it is possible for most students to win a scholarship, but you should also be realistic and know that you won’t win every time. In fact, a lot of successful scholarship applicants are rejected from many more prizes than they win.

So, the truth is, you can win scholarships whether your grades are great, average, or below average. 

“I Don’t Qualify for Financial Need, Therefore I Can’t Win a Scholarship”

There’s also a widespread belief that scholarship recipients must qualify for financial need. Of course, these scholarships are numerous. But if you do not qualify for financial need, there are other types of scholarships you can win. 

For example, do you know that there’s a scholarship for tall people? A scholarship for bird watchers? Scholarships for minority students? Scholarships from government? And so much more! 

This is just a tiny fraction of the number of scholarships that exist with deadlines throughout the academic year. The amount of college and university scholarships in existence is truly mind blowing!

To set yourself up for scholarship success, you should know what kinds of scholarships exist and what scholarships you are eligible for. This is important because college and university scholarships reward students for very different things. In other words, various scholarship programs offer money for education, but they do so for specific reasons.

Scholarships based on financial need are one, among many, types of awards.

“I’m Too Embarrassed to Ask for Feedback or Proofreading!”: Scholarships are Intimidating

Indeed, scholarships can be competitive. That is intimidating for some students. 

There’s also the fact that personal essays are a part of most scholarship application processes. Of course, the thing about personal essays is that they tend to be, well, personal! This sometimes makes it hard to ask others for feedback. 

It’s also just a reality that many students, and people in general, feel uncomfortable with asking others to read their work. Without question, this puts you in a vulnerable position; at least, that’s the way it feels. 

However, remember that a real human will read your scholarship essay. Of course, spelling and grammar can be checked by a proofreader, but it’s also wise to ask how your essay comes across to a reader. In particular, how would the reader perceive you if they read your essay, but didn’t know you? 

Scholarship winners create authentic essays that stand out from the crowd. It’s best to know if yours achieves this goal before you hand it in.

Asking someone you trust to read your essay is the best way to do this! Trying to find ways to pay for tuition is nothing to be embarrassed about!

“I’ll Just Apply and See What Happens”

While I won the first award I applied for, it’s not common for this to be the case. In fact, after the first prize, I submitted a number of applications … and didn’t win. Now I know it’s because I didn’t have a clear strategy. 

Having a clear strategy is something I preach to students regularly. It’s a game changer. 

Getting organized and writing down a plan is crucial for success. So, at the very least, create a simple spreadsheet to keep track of scholarship names, deadlines, and application items. You may also want to include URLs to scholarship pages so that relevant information is easily accessible as you start your scholarship applications.

It’s also a good idea to download application forms early so you know exactly what you have to prepare in order to apply. Some scholarships are quick and easy, while others require more effort and will require you to plan accordingly. If you’re applying for different scholarships throughout the school year, keep in mind that you’ll have to navigate tests and assignments, too. 

Scholarships for College or University for high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students.

Let’s Summarize: Winning College or University Scholarships is All About Strategy, Not Your Résumé

Let me emphasize the main point I’ve tried to communicate here: winning scholarships is all about your mindset and strategy, not your student profile. 

Don’t get me wrong, good grades and an amazing set of extracurricular activities can help you stand out, but they’re not necessary for every scholarship. 

Earning a scholarship is possible for just about every student. However, you must understand how to overcome the most common challenges students face with scholarships. Believe in yourself and know you have the ability to figure this out. Stay motivated, keep applying, and don’t quit. 

Your bright future awaits!

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