There’s a lot of advice on the internet to help you win a college scholarship. Most of this advice is focused on putting together a great application. While this is important, much of this guidance overlooks the starting point. This is important because the way you begin your journey into scholarships can be a difference maker. So, whether you just started finding scholarship opportunities or you’re now seasoned at scholarship applications, the insights offered below will help position you to win scholarship money.

Below, we’ll cover what successful scholarship applicants do before they even write one word of their scholarship essay. While knowing how to stand out in a scholarship application is key, how you think about scholarships, how you find them, and how you understand various types of scholarships can be the difference between lots of moolah or no moolah at all.

Shaping Mindset: You Can Win, But You Won’t Win Them All

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 exclusively focused on grades. Believe it or not, there are even millions of dollars every year that go unawarded because selection committees receive no applications.

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. Fortunately, rejections don’t matter. No one will ever ask about how many scholarships you didn’t win. Only successful applications will be added to your résumé. Don’t let the fear of rejection prevent you from starting the process!

Understanding Types of Scholarships and Your Profile

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

Merit scholarships, for example, reward students for outstanding academic or extracurricular performance. So, if your GPA and test scores are impeccable or you’ve done some exceptional leadership work, national merit scholarships might be a good fit for you. However, if your grades aren’t high in the stratosphere or you haven’t done much related to campus life, don’t worry, there are other types of scholarships you can apply for.   

Student-specific prizes are scholarships based on personal characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, and even many more things like hobbies and interests. For these prizes, you should make a list of all the things that make you unique. Then, do a search to see if scholarships for students who reflect those criteria exist. For example, if you’re a Hispanic student, a military veteran, or a woman in STEM, do a search for scholarships for these kinds of prizes.

Needs-based scholarships are another major category you may consult. These are scholarships based on family income. Typically, you’ll have to qualify for federal student aid or other government sponsored student loan programs. If you have any trouble navigating this space, consult your school’s financial aid office for precise information on eligibility requirements and application deadlines.

Scholarships by major reward students studying a specific subject. These scholarships may also help high school seniors or undergraduate students who want to enter a specific career. Some college majors tend to have more available prizes. For example, STEM scholarships, scholarships for social work, and scholarships for business or MBA studies tend to be numerous. There are even prizes specifically for graduate students, so look for this in the eligibility criteria if you’re headed to graduate school.

Beyond these major types of scholarships, there are also brand scholarships given away by businesses, college-specific scholarships for students studying at a specific school, and creative scholarships that require a creative application (videos, graphic design work, etc.).

Ultimately, this information should help you figure out where your profile is most likely to earn you success. If one type of scholarship fits well with who you are as a college student, start there. You’ll be far more likely to find prizes that you’re competitive for in this way.

Understanding Components of Scholarship Applications

As you’re starting to think about scholarships, it’s also wise to understand what most scholarships ask you for. You’ll want to know this well in advance of deadlines so that you can invest a good amount of time to apply for scholarships.

Most scholarship competitions ask for a personal statement or scholarship essay. There also exist scholarship opportunities that do not require essays (a.k.a. noessay scholarships) or personal statements, so if writing is not your strongest quality, there are still options available for you.

Other common application items are reference letters and a scholarship résumé. When it comes to asking someone for a letter of recommendation, try to ensure that you give them lots of time to write it for you. Remember, this is a person who is going to support you to win a scholarship, so try to put them in the best possible position to do so.

Research Matters: Scholarship Searches and Where to Look

Another important part of getting started in scholarships is knowing where to look to find prizes. On this front, there are many scholarship directories, scholarship websites, and scholarship platforms that exist. Our BridgesEDU Scholarship Finder is one example of a scholarship database that connects you with many scholarship opportunities. You don’t have to use this platform, but if you use another, just make sure it’s legit.

Another place to look for scholarships is good old Google. You’ll likely get tons of hits with the search engine so use it to your advantage.

One other great resource to find scholarship opportunities is your school. Your high school guidance office, college registrar, or student financial aid office likely has scholarship lists with many prizes.

Finally, your personal network is definitely a good place to start scholarship searches. If you’re part of any community like a church, a sports team, a volunteering committee, or something of this nature, check with your community leaders about scholarships for students like you.

Make a Plan

Getting organized and writing down a plan is crucial for success. Create a simple spreadsheet to keep track of scholarship names, due dates, 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.

Additionally, when considering what scholarships to apply for, take note of how much money the prize is worth and how it is delivered to you if you win. Some scholarship providers send money directly to your college or university and you receive a credit toward your college tuition. If you’re seeking a college scholarship for a certain purpose, be aware of these kinds of terms and conditions.

Finally, private student loans and credit card bills stay with you after you graduate, so lessening student debt will help you in the long run. Scholarship winners earn money for college that they don’t have to pay back, so start applying for scholarships as soon as you can!

Scholarships: Where to Start – A Summary

  • Winning a scholarship starts with mindset. It’s important to know that almost any student can win a scholarship, but rejections may outnumber successes.
  • Get familiar with the various types of scholarships and understand where you’re best suited to succeed.
  • Always check eligibility criteria before applying for scholarships.
  • Know the most important parts of a scholarship application. These are typically a scholarship essay, your grades, résumé, and reference letters.
  • Make a plan and get organized with spreadsheet. Include scholarship deadlines and necessary application items.