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8 Tips for Optimizing Your College Scholarship Search

Key Takeaways

  • Your guidance counselor can help you focus on the right undergrad scholarships.
  • Only apply for scholarships you’re eligible for so you don’t waste time.
  • Make sure you proofread your applications to avoid critical mistakes.

Scholarships can be a great way to help families and students mitigate the cost of college, whether you’re going for your undergraduate or graduate degree. Yet with thousands of scholarships available, how do you know which ones to apply for so you’re using your time wisely?

Consider these eight tips to help you get the most out of your scholarship search.

1. Meet with your guidance counselor

For those applying for undergrad scholarships, guidance counselors often have information about local and regional scholarships that you might not be aware of. When your guidance counselor knows you and your interests, they can help you focus on the right scholarships based on your unique situation.

2. Only apply for scholarships you’re eligible for

The types and criteria of scholarships vary widely. For that reason, make sure you’re eligible for a scholarship before you fill out your application. You should thoroughly review the scholarship description and make an honest appraisal of whether you’re a good fit. If you’re not, that’s OK — it’s better to realize that now before wasting time on your application. Instead, you can put your time to better use on an application that you have an actual shot of getting.

Scholarships that lack detailed descriptions attract a wide range of applicants. That lowers the odds of you standing out from the pack; therefore, it’s best to deprioritize these types of scholarships on your list.

Many scholarship deadlines are in March. In the preceding months, start your search by looking into scholarships offered by specialized categories, such as family heritage, lifestyle, interests, religion, and your anticipated college major. You can always expand your search later to scholarships with a wider range of applicants.

3. Get organized

Getting your recommendations and transcripts in hand can take time. Plan accordingly by giving yourself substantial lead time to accomplish each task, and think about ways to prioritize your time in order to be most efficient. For example, tackle applications in order of which deadline is coming up first. Or, if you need to submit transcripts for multiple entries, request them all at the same time so you only need to worry about getting them once. It may be helpful to create a spreadsheet to track the scholarships you’re pursuing, where you stand in the application process, and deadlines.

Before beginning any college scholarship application, make sure you can reasonably meet the deadline. If you can’t, once again you’ll only be wasting your time that could be better spent on other applications.

4. Tailor your application to the sponsor

Customize your scholarship applications as necessary to address sponsor-specific details. Research the background, history, and goals of the scholarship, as well as the organization presenting it. Then, direct your application toward satisfying those goals to increase your chances of being awarded the scholarship.

5. Develop a personal statement

Think about your accomplishments to date and make a list. This will help you identify your strengths and prepare a better application. An easy way to build your list is to write it down as you fill out applications.

Don’t forget to include any community service work you’ve completed. Any college essays for applications could also serve as a good resource.

6. Proofread

Make sure you check your applications multiple times. Don’t assume your computer’s spell checker caught all of the mistakes. The vast majority of mistakes are small errors that spell checkers don’t pick up.

Have another person proofread your applications. That way you get a fresh set of eyes; that person might catch some things you missed. Make sure you take their criticism constructively and be ready to make edits based on their feedback.

7. Make copies

This is a simple one. Make a copy of each scholarship packet you fill out and keep it on file. You never know when you might need it.

8. Be professional

Present yourself in the best possible light — be confident, be yourself, and be honest. Maintain positive relationships with those who recommend, interview, or help you; saying “thank you” can go a long way.

Also, use a professional-looking email address, such as firstname.lastname@XYZ.com. Search for your name on the Internet to make sure there are no surprises in your professional online profile. And remember to review the content of your social media accounts to remove any inappropriate and immature material.

What to remember

Scholarships for college or grad school can provide a financial lift for students and their families. As a result, it’s critical that you use your time wisely when searching for scholarships and filling out your applications. Find the ones that best suit you and give it your best shot!

More information

We are committed to helping you reach your potential. If you have questions, or would like more information, call 1-888-411-0266 to speak to a Student Lending Specialist, visit us online, or visit your nearest Citizens Bank branch.

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