17 Ways to Win a Scholarship

Want to snag a coveted scholarship? Here's a guide to success.

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With the cost of education spiraling out of control, the scholarship game has become more competitive than ever. "You need to make sure you do everything—and I mean everything—to keep the cost of college down," said scholarship expert and bestselling author Mark Kantrowitz. Here are 17 great ways to increase your chances of winning a scholarship, according to Kantrowitz's new book, Secrets to Winning a Scholarship:

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1. Prioritize

With tons of scholarships available to students, it is impossible to apply for them all. Therefore, you must learn to prioritize which scholarships you apply for by taking into consideration deadlines and the expected value of a scholarship (determined by multiplying the award amount by your odds of winning the scholarship).

2. Be Organized

Use a calendar to keep track of application deadlines. Also, be sure to have a checklist to go along with each application so you don't forget to include any supplemental materials. (See also: 40 College Resources for Parents and Students)

3. Make an Accomplishments Resume

Create a one-page portfolio of your greatest accomplishments. This will help you when you are filling out applications and sometimes you can even include the resume with your application.

4. Cater to the Scholarship Sponsor's Goals

Every scholarship has a sponsor and every sponsor has a unique set of goals. Be sure to tailor your application to their goals. If you are unsure of what their goals are, consider why they are sponsoring the scholarship and what kind of applicants they are looking for.

5. Follow Instructions

One of the quickest ways to not get a scholarship is to fail to abide by the instructions. Be sure to read through the instructions thoroughly and follow them. Also, avoid spelling and grammatical mistakes, otherwise your application may end up in the "no" pile.

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6. Stand Out

Do your best to make your application stand out from others. Make sure to clearly convey your hopes and dreams within your application so that the selection committee can get a clear picture of who you are and what sets you apart from the rest of the applicants.

7. Ask for a Nomination

Some scholarships require you be nominated in order to be considered. Don't be shy to ask for a nomination. Be sure to give your accomplishments resume to whoever is responsible for making the nomination and don't forget to send a thank you note to the nominator if they nominate you.

8. Write an Amazing Essay

Provide examples in your essay that support your self-evaluation. Specific examples are key when it comes to writing a great essay.

9. Select a Great Essay

Topic Choose an essay topic that allows you to showcase your originality and creativity. Steer clear of controversial or philosophical essays. Instead, use your essay to show your ability to solve problems and be honest.

10. Do This (and Not That) In Your Essay

Be sure to follow directions and not skip questions. Put the most important information at the beginning of your essay and the least important information at the end. Pull your reader in so they want to read your essay and don't be tentative in your writing. Talk about a subject that interests you and don't wait until the last minute to write your essay. Follow word limits precisely and don't edit your essay to death. Adhere to page limits and write the essay yourself; don't let your parents write it for you.

11. Fellowship vs. Scholarship Applications

Know the difference between fellowships (for graduate students) and scholarships (for undergraduates). Make sure your application reflects the information each type is looking for.

12. Practice

Make a copy of the application and practice filling it out to make sure everything fits. Then, once you know everything you have to say fits on your application, fill out the actual application.

13. Online Applications

If you submit an application online, don't use informal abbreviations or emoticons. Just because you can apply online doesn't mean you can treat it like a Facebook update. Reread your essay once you copy and paste it into the application form to make sure the formatting is correct. Save all emails you send in regards to the scholarship and make sure you double check the recipient list on each email you send.

14. Request a Great Letter of Recommendation

If your application calls for a letter of recommendation, ask a teacher, advisor, employer etc. for a great letter of recommendation. Provide them with your accomplishments resume to help them with their letter and give them an addressed stamped envelope. Don't forget to send them a thank you note after they mail the letter.

15. Practice for the Interview and Be Professional

If you have to go in for an interview, be sure to be prepared by practicing. This way you will be less nervous. Also, be on time, dress professionally, be polite, and send a thank you note after your interview. (See also: How to Answer 23 of the Most Common Interview Questions)

16. Keep Cool During Challenging Interviews

Sometimes interviewers will purposely push your buttons. Stay calm and be positive. Take a few seconds to think about your answer before you respond. Whenever possible, try to deflect the pressure by asking the interviewer about his interests or seek his advice. People love talking about themselves. Showing genuine interest in your interviewer is a great way to diffuse any tricky situation.

17. Telephone and Webcam Interviews

When interviewing via telephone make sure to take the call in a quiet room using a corded phone for better quality. Also, keep a page of notes and your accomplishments resume next to you. When interviewing by webcam make sure the lens is clean, place the webcam at eye level, and make sure your background is uncluttered by taking a snapshot to see what the interviewer is seeing.

Ashley Jacobs is the college correspondent for personal finance community Wise Bread. Follow her latest tweets on @CollegeCents.