How to Score Extra Scholarship Money for College
One third of undergraduate college students used scholarships to pay for college last year, with an average of $7,700, according to Sallie Mae’s national “How America Pays for College” study. “There are hundreds of thousands of scholarships available to students, but in order to qualify for any support you first need to apply,” said Joe DePaulo, executive vice president, Sallie Mae. “The good news is that you don’t need to be the class valedictorian or star athlete to be eligible for many awards.”
Sallie Mae recommends students and families follow these tips to help make scholarship searches successful:
Start searching for scholarships as early as possible
You can begin as early as ninth or tenth grade, as scholarships for younger students sometimes have less competition. The key is to start early and renew efforts year after year to take advantage of additional opportunities.
Expand your search
Not all scholarships will be found online: check with local clubs, religious organizations, employers, and your guidance counselor. Local scholarships tend to be less competitive. Also, corporations often award scholarships to their customers.
Don’t be intimidated if you’re not at the top of your class
Scholarship judges love to see leadership and volunteerism, and many don’t ask for GPA or standardized test scores. When applying for scholarships, make sure to showcase commitment and depth with involvement in campus clubs or organizations.
Don’t overlook unusual opportunities
Some organizations offer scholarships to highlight interesting career opportunities, hobbies or products. For example, you could apply for the Duck Calling Contest, American Association of Candy Technologists Scholarship, Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year Award, or the Stuck at Prom Duck Brand Duck Tape Scholarship Contest, to name a few.
Sign up for a free online scholarship search service
Sallie Mae’s free database lists more than 3 million scholarships worth over $16 billion. Visitors can also register for a chance to win a $1,000 drawing each month.
Search year round
There are many scholarships available all year long, and scholarships due in the winter can have less competition. Treat scholarship searching and applying like a part-time job, as many opportunities come up throughout the year.
Stay on top of deadlines, gather all pertinent documents, and make copies of everything you submit. It is a good idea to send your applications by certified mail to ensure receipt.
Don't exaggerate your grades, memberships, skills, or qualifications. It is better to focus on the scholarships for which you might be eligible.
Follow instructions carefully
Some scholarships require you to write an essay; others may want letters of recommendation. Send in what is requested and proofread everything. Typos and missing materials can cost you a scholarship.
Get others to review your essay. When you finish writing your scholarship essay, get feedback from others, such as a parent, teacher, or friend. Don't just ask them to look for grammar or spelling mistakes. Ask them to point out any unclear passages and, most importantly, ask if your essay convinces them that you deserve to win the scholarship.
Avoid Scholarship Scams
So you get an unsolicited scholarship application by email. You appear to have the qualifications, and you have time to apply. But as you are about to dive into the application, something holds you back; something doesn't feel right. How can you tell if a scholarship offer is legitimate?
Be alert for services that solicit money in exchange for guaranteed scholarships. Watch out for pitches that boast:
- "You're a finalist!" or "You've won!" a contest or scholarship you never entered. Be wary, especially if they ask you for a credit card or bank account number to hold your "winnings." Don't believe it. You must apply for scholarships first to receive them.
- "First come, first served." While you do need to get your application in before the scholarship deadlines, the "first come, first served" rule does not apply to scholarships.
- "Millions of dollars go unclaimed." Legitimate scholarship awards are predetermined. Sponsors work very hard to find the most qualified applicant.
- "It's guaranteed!" Scholarship searches can guarantee search results. They can't guarantee you the scholarship money.
- "We'll do the work for you ... for a fee." The fee may be nominal and the offer may come from someone who sounds official. So make sure you do your research before paying anyone to do a search for you.
If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.