Five ways to make your scholarship applications pay off.
Story by Danielle Castonzo
Although the college scholarship search is daunting at times, the work you put in literally can pay off. During my senior year in high school, I applied for many scholarships, and the two I received granted me a full ride to my university. That in turn allowed me to take advantage of opportunities like study abroad and outdoor adventure trips while I was in college.
Scholarships grant you the freedom to do what you want, both in college and after you graduate. Fortunately, there truly is a scholarship for almost anything out there: extracurricular activities, athletics, leadership experience – even duck calling. (This is not a joke: If you’re willing to travel to Stuttgart, Arizona, for a duck-calling contest, you might win a scholarship. (Chick-and-Sophie-Major-Memorial-Duck-Calling-Contest.)
As Key Club members, your volunteer experience and community/school involvement can set you apart on your scholarship applications. Cheryl Amundson, director of program design and implementation for Scholarship America, shares some tips for standing out on your scholarship applications and making your dream school affordable:
- Highlight the details of your leadership experience. It’s important to emphasize the ways you’ve given back to your community and school. “Instead of just listing what you did, scholarship sponsors are looking for why you did it and what you learned from it,” Amundson says. “That really sets people apart.” Explaining what you’ve learned from your leadership experiences and how that knowledge will impact you moving forward makes your application more authentic and memorable.
- Find your grit. Not surprisingly, scholarship sponsors want to support students who are likely to succeed in college. One way to demonstrate that, Amundson says, is to highlight the challenges and hardships you have overcome in your life, both academically and personally. “Not every applicant may have a lot of demonstrated leadership positions or involvement in organizations, so what other things in their life have they had to overcome that built grit?”
- Don’t dismiss local scholarships. Although they might offer less financial support than national scholarships, fewer students apply for them, which gives you an advantage. These applications also tend to be shorter than ones for larger, more competitive scholarships. “Don’t overlook the little ones,” Amundson advises, “because they can add up.”
- Read the criteria — and scholarship prompt — thoroughly. One of the biggest mistakes Amundson sees students make is skipping the fine print and applying for scholarships without having the proper qualifications. Some students forget to submit some small component of the application, making them ineligible for consideration. She also sees applicants who do not read the prompts carefully and write off-topic essays. “Their answers don’t fit what the scholarship sponsor is looking for in their award recipient.”
- The time is now. The sooner you start searching for scholarships, the more opportunities you’ll have to find ones that fit your skill set, write thoughtful essays and gather the required supplemental materials. “There are so many scholarships out there, and you need to be selective,” Amundson says. “But it’s never too late to go searching.”
Scholarship America scholarshipamerica.org