The Key to ScholarshipsOur guest contributor is the founder of Going Merry, Charlie Maynard. Going Merry helps students find and apply for scholarships online with a free, shared app.
Let’s face it--college is pricey.
Not only are students expected to pay for tuition and housing, but there are also meal plans, transportation, books, and other essentials! At the end of the day, it’s a huge financial investment.
But not to fear! Scholarships are a key part of the financial aid package. They can save you money and make your college dreams come true at the same time.
How do you find them? Where can you start?
It's essential to develop a scholarship strategy and stick to it. Blindly searching for and applying to scholarships can get messy...and the last thing you want is added stress while you’re already juggling a million other applications.
1. Stay Organized
How do you develop a strategy? You can start by following the tips below. Try them out and see what works for you!
We get it. Who has time to be organized while there are a million things going on? It can be tough, but trust us on this one...it’s totally worth it. Take the time to jot down scholarship deadlines in your calendar. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to work on them.
Because, honestly, catching up on scholarship essays is perhaps one of the worst reasons to stay up all night.
Remember: it’s often not just you who needs to put in the work. Asking for recommendation letters can involve the most planning. You should give your teachers, professors, or employers at least a four-week notice when asking for a recommendation, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and can actually put time and effort into it!
Finally, don’t forget that, while many scholarships have deadlines in March or April, there are scholarships available all year round. Set up a routine to check regularly for opportunities to make sure you don’t overlook one that you definitely don’t want to miss. 2. Prioritize!
Make sure that you’re prioritizing your scholarships and not spending hours and hours on ones that you have very little chance of winning, or that require huge amounts of work and with little payoff.
When deciding which scholarships to prioritize, look at the details. Compare things like the essay questions and length, required documents, (e.g. letters of recommendation or transcripts), and if there are multiple rounds of applications. This will help you get an idea of how long it will actually take you to complete the application.
Figuring out the popularity of a scholarship can also give you an idea of your chance of winning. For example, a nationwide scholarship with vague eligibility requirements probably has lots of applicants--we recommend targeting local scholarships first. Even though they might have smaller award amounts, they can really add up and your chances of winning are probably higher. Speak to your high school counselor to find out more.
Make a list, ranking the most important scholarships, and go from there! Remember, it’s better to focus on a couple of great scholarship opportunities than on several mediocre ones.
Pssst...Going Merry gives you an estimate for how long each application takes to complete and provides you with a personalized list of local scholarships. This can help you prioritize even further.
3. Reuse EssaysIf two scholarship applications have similar essay topics, why write two different versions? Save yourself time by tweaking essays you’ve already written! You can even reuse your college application essays, since these tend to touch on a lot of the same topics: for example, life goals, or personal development.
To help you with this, we created MerryApps, which group together scholarship applications that have the same essay questions. As a result, all you need to do is submit one application and we’ll send it to all the scholarships within the bundle. There are currently MerryApps for career goals, overcoming challenges, community service and digital marketing. By submitting to all four, you can apply to 44 scholarships. That's a big time savings!
And more time saved means more time to dedicate to other scholarships applications!
4. Learn from Past Winners
Even though it’s not always possible, learning from past scholarship winners can be a huge help! Sometimes scholarship committees will actually post essays from past winners on their website. Take advantage of this benefit and look them over!
These winning essays will give you an idea of what the committee is looking for (AKA a HUGE advantage). You'll learn what a winning candidate looks like to them in terms of GPAs, goals, etc. You might even find some inspiration for your own (unique) essay! Some great resources to find essay examples are College Essay Guy and MindSumo.
5. Make Your Essay Shine
Let’s face it...scholarship committees generally don’t want to hear about your favorite TV shows or your daily routine. They want to hear about what makes you a great candidate for their award...so show them!
Before you even start applying for scholarships, it’s a great idea to make a list of your strengths. Ask friends and family for ideas. Then, try and incorporate these strengths by showing them in each essay that you write. It’s equally as important to highlight your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Showing how you’ve learned from your mistakes, or how you’re overcoming your weaknesses, is a great way to express that!
And, of course, the best way to make your essay shine is to show your personality. Don’t be afraid to make it witty and clever. This is your one opportunity to show the committee who you really are.
6. Just Go For It!Since tomorrow never really comes, the only time to get started is...today! So start researching and creating a list. Also make sure to keep a positive attitude. While it can feel overwhelming, you’ll see that it was totally worth it when you’re not graduating college with mountains of student debt.