Applications are an important part of winning most scholarship prizes. However, even before you get to the application process, there are important strategies you can use to better position yourself to win a scholarship.

The key thing to know about scholarship opportunities is that there are typically many undergraduate and graduate students competing for them. In light of this, the most important thing to avoid when searching and applying for scholarships is competition, but it’s also important to avoid scholarship prizes that don’t fit well with your student profile.

Let’s elaborate on the dos and don’ts of scholarship search tools in order to help you find and win money to pay for your college tuition, student debt, private student loans, and do some college planning. With financial aid, credit card debt, and the increasing costs in paying for college, there has never been a more important time to empower yourself – even if you’re as young as middle school – with a financial plan and valuable information related to scholarships.

Avoid Scholarships with Lots of Competition

The biggest obstacle to winning a scholarship is competition. Luckily, there are strategies you can use when researching scholarships that can help you avoid incredible amounts of competition – and ensure that you stand out to win money for college!

The first thing to examine during your search for scholarships is the eligibility criteria of any given prize. When doing so, it’s important to ask yourself if the scholarship requirements will likely disqualify many students or if your competition could theoretically be every student in America. Some scholarship providers offer very specific criteria for students to qualify for their prize. For example, there are specific scholarship opportunities for women in STEM fields, engineering scholarships, history scholarships, scholarships for literature, scholarships for volunteering, and there are even what might be considered weird scholarships like those for tall people or bird watchers. In other words, there are countless scholarships given away for countless reasons.

On the other hand, there are also scholarship applications that are open to virtually every high school senior, college student, or graduate student in America. Imagine the amount of competition for these prizes! This is why it makes sense to avoid applying for scholarships that will likely receive hundreds or thousands of applicants, unless you know that you are a stellar candidate. However, if you know that you’re not competitive because your grades aren’t amazing or your extracurricular profile doesn’t shine, it’s probably prudent to avoid scholarships open to all college students in America since the application process won’t be a good use of your time.

Avoid Scholarships You Don’t Qualify For

While widescale eligibility will likely lead to lots of competition, you should also pay close attention to scholarship requirements because the slightest missed detail could make you ineligible to apply.

When it comes to scholarship eligibility, rules are typically quite strict. This inflexibility may mean that you’ll be deemed ineligible to win the money even before your scholarship essay and application are read. It’s a shame to invest time writing a scholarship essay and not have an opportunity to be considered for the prize. So, if a scholarship competition states in the eligibility criteria that you must have taken five college credits in math and you only have four, save yourself the time and don’t apply for the scholarship. File the prize away for next year and put together a stellar application when you qualify.

There’s one other thing to consider when examining scholarship opportunities. In some cases, you might meet the criteria, but not match well with the mission of the scholarship program. Here, again, you may want to think hard about whether constructing an application is worth your time. For example, if the mission of a scholarship program is to invest in students who have a history of exceptional leadership and you think that you may win the scholarship prize because you won a national chess competition, there’s clearly a disconnect. Despite being impressive, your profile doesn’t match well with the spirit of the scholarship prize, and it may be wiser to focus time and energy on a different scholarship competition.

Avoid Sticking to the First Results on Scholarship Lists or Scholarship Databases

This is a short, but important point. When searching for scholarships you may want to avoid staying on the first page of various scholarship lists, scholarship databases, or scholarship search engines. You should probably assume that the ease in finding these options will make them an option for many other students. Without question, this will increase competition. So, in your search, navigate as far and as wide as possible. The deeper you go into the pages of search engines, the less likely it will be that others find the same prizes. If you need some motivation on this front, treat this like a digital treasure hunt with scholarship money as your prize. If you’re successful, you may be able to avoid some of the burden associated with paying for college, including credit card debt, student loans, and other forms of financial aid that you’ll have to pay back later. If your college planning takes scholarship applications seriously, your future self will thank you for it.

Overall, there are certainly items that you should avoid when looking for prizes in order to enhance your chances of being chosen by a scholarship committee. Here’s a brief summary of the main points to consider for your scholarship searches:


  • The main thing students should avoid when searching for scholarships are prizes with a ton of competition.
  • You’ll also want to avoid scholarships with broad eligibility criteria that makes most students eligible to apply. For example, national scholarships open to all American students at any American college or university.
  • Try to avoid scholarships whose eligibility criteria you meet, but whose mission doesn’t fit well with your profile. For example, a merit-based scholarship for students with a strong grade point average (GPA), but you have an 80% cumulative average. Your grades are good, but it should be assumed that this scholarship will likely attract students with near-perfect grades. Before investing time in an application, consider if you have a realistic chance at winning the prize.
  • Read the eligibility requirements carefully and avoid scholarships whose criteria you don’t meet. Apply for scholarships that fit well with your extracurricular and academic profile.
  • Avoid scholarship opportunities that are incredibly easy to find with common search tools unless you know that you have a great chance of winning it. If a major scholarship competition is the first hit you get when you browse scholarships, it’s likely that many current students will discover and apply to that same prize. Scholarship search sites are widely used so use discretion in the decisions you make.