7 Tips to Win the Perfect College Scholarship for You

How to navigate the sea of opportunities to find a scholarship that's right for you and present yourself in the best light.

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There are thousands of scholarships available to students every year, but the competition is fierce and finding the right scholarship can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are things you can do to secure the funding you need for tuition, books, and other education expenses. Identifying opportunities you are eligible for and exploring a variety of opportunities can increase your chances of success. You’ll also need to be organized and stay on top of multiple deadlines.

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Sabah Karimi
Here are seven tips to help you find the best scholarship opportunities:

1. File a FAFSA. File your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible and make sure you file your application every year. The application is available each January and could help you qualify for certain scholarships. Upon approval, you’ll find out how much free aid you qualify for and what types of scholarships you may be able to qualify for.

2. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your applications. When you’re inquiring about scholarship opportunities by mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope so that the scholarship provider can send you application materials as quickly as possible. Some organizations actually require applicants to send the envelope.

3. Stay organized. Keep track of all application deadlines by using a calendar to mark important dates. Remember that most scholarship requirements include sending letters of recommendation, transcripts, financial records, and other documents. You’ll need to prepare these items several weeks in advance of the due date and take the time to ensure everything is ready to go well before the deadline. Create individual files for each application and get into the habit of tracking your scholarship due dates on a calendar. This will make it easier to submit all application materials well ahead of schedule.

4. Don’t overlook unique opportunities. “You don’t need to be the class valedictorian or star athlete to be eligible for many awards,” said Joe DePaulo, eExecutive Vice President of Sallie Mae, in a November press release. Many organizations offer scholarships that reward unique skill sets or life experiences. C-SPAN, for example, runs a national video documentary competition for students called StudentCam, which gives away $50,000 in scholarships to students and teachers. On a lighter note, Duck Brand Duck Tape runs a “Stuck at Prom” scholarship contest, which challenges students to create prom outfits out of duct tape and then wear them to prom for a chance to win scholarship cash prizes.

5. Read application instructions carefully. Review all of the eligibility requirements of every single scholarship you are applying for so you aren’t wasting your time on an opportunity that isn’t the right fit. Also, many students simply fail to follow directions and their application is discarded almost immediately. Give yourself a competitive advantage by reading the directions carefully and avoid sending something that hasn’t been requested.

6. Make copies of everything you submit. You’ll want to keep a copy of every item you send to the review committee in case someone needs additional documents at some point in the review process. Materials can get lost and it will be your responsibility to make sure the review committee has what they need to make their decision.

7. Increase your chances of success. Almost all scholarship opportunities require at least one to two letters of recommendation. Make sure you select people who can write you a solid letter of recommendation and provide specific details about your work ethic, drive, sense of responsibility, and other positive traits that would support your application. You’ll want to select people who can speak to your strengths and highlight things that make you stand apart from other applicants. Distinguishing facts might include your involvement with local charitable organizations, volunteer projects, or any type of academic success.

Check out Wise Bread for more money-saving resources for college and articles by columnist Sabah Karimi.