How to Win a College Scholarship

Written by

Beatrice Harrison


August 14, 2014



Many students have to rely on some type of financial aid in order to pay for their college costs. Unlike student loans, scholarships are a great way to pay for college because the funds you receive do not have to be paid back. While countless scholarships are available to almost every type of student, the best scholarships are of course very competitive and hard to win. A significant amount of effort is needed to increase your odds of success, so here are 20 tips on how to win a college scholarship.

1. Start researching scholarship opportunities as soon as possible and apply early! Most scholarships have application deadlines. Due the large number of available scholarships, it is impossible to apply to all of them. Select the ones that best fit your needs and qualifications.

2. Find out whether you are a part of a minority or under-represented group. Consider whether you are interested in any unique disciplines. Many scholarships are available for students pursuing smaller majors.

3. Organize scholarship materials, including transcripts, standardized test scores, financial aid forms, parents’ financial information, essays, and proof of eligibility. Scholarships often require official transcripts, so check the scholarship policy and find out whether your will need to request the necessary documents from your school’s guidance counselor or academic advisor in advance.

4. Any activity in sports teams, clubs, and community service organizations will increase your chances of receiving a scholarship. Many scholarship coordinators prefer awarding scholarships to well-rounded students.

5. Maintain a high grade point average to increase your eligibility for more scholarships. Even if you don’t win a scholarship, it is highly unlikely that you will ever regret having received good grades in school.

6. Obtain letters of recommendation from teachers, community leaders, or other respected individuals.

7. If letters of recommendation aren’t needed, select and prepare your list of scholarship references. This list might include your favorite teacher from high school or perhaps leader from your local church. Along with a copy of your resume, your references should have a basic knowledge of who you are as a person and your skills and goals.

8. Read the requirements thoroughly to make sure you are not wasting your time and that you are indeed eligible. If you have any questions concerning your eligibility, do not hesitate to contact the scholarship sponsors.

9. Identify the sponsor’s overall goals and requirements and provide more than just the basic information when filling out the scholarship application.

10. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions, as any errors can quickly cause your scholarship application to be denied. While it is good to go above and beyond in some cases, don’t send supporting materials unless they are specifically requested.

11. Compose a compelling essay to accompany your scholarship application. Even you are a great writer, it is a good idea to research tips on how to write an essay. A good essay must be grammatically correct and flow nicely, match the assigned topic, and include concrete examples. Essays that follow a standard compositional format are often favored, so show the scholarship sponsors that you have all of the basics covered. Also, keep the length limit in mid, as going too far over or under may hurt your chances. Finally, ask a friend or family member to proofread your essay and provide suggestions.

12. If an essay is required, make sure that you demonstrate a healthy dose of self-confidence when explaining why you deserve the scholarship. Provide any notable personal accomplishments, including academic merit, awards, community work, and job experience. Talk yourself up as much as possible and do not hesitate to point out all of your personal achievements.

13. Never include false information on scholarship applications. Providing false information on official documents is illegal, so there will likely be dire consequences if the organization finds out that your application is not accurate.

14. Do not leave any items blank! Fill out everything, as omitting information is the quickest way to be eliminated from the application process.

15. Just as you should with your essay, proofread your whole scholarship application, even asking someone else to look it over as well.

16. On the same note, if you are reusing certain parts of your application, such as an essay or cover letter, carefully double-check the application to make sure you did not include any incorrect names.

17. It sounds silly, but don’t forget to sign and date your application!

18. Make copies of all of your application materials. If they do get lost in transit, it will be a lot easier to quickly resend the application then to contact your college and request that the materials be resent.

19. Present the application as neatly and professionally as possible, typing or printing all information clearly in blue or black ink. To help make your application stand out, consider sending it through certified mail.

20. Watch deadlines closely, especially if you are applying for multiple scholarships at one time. Avoid sending the application on the wrong date. Create a calendar with the names and deadlines of each scholarship in order to avoid this.

Looking for a scholarship? Research over 250 scholarship opportunities by visiting our scholarships section. There is over $150 million in scholarship funding available across different majors and levels of study. 

Written by:  Beatrice Harrison

Educated at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Beatrice Harrison has extensive professional experience in career counseling, having helped a growing number of job seekers find fulfilling and meaningful careers in a variety of fields and disciplines.

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