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How to Win a Scholarship: From a Girl Who's Applied for 300+ Awards

by Diane Melville

Yes, I’ve applied for a LOT of scholarships. It was basically my full-time job throughout college and Scholarships.com was my preferred source for finding the scholarships that I qualified for. You may think that this post will outline how you should do the same thing. False: Me telling you how to apply for 300 scholarships would be like a guy who found a mountain of gold after searching for 30 years telling you to take the same long, exhausting journey. You don’t want to repeat his arduous trek – you just want to buy a one-way ticket to gold mountain! In the same way, I want to teach you some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way that will help you to win scholarships...without having to apply for hundreds of them.

Start Small. I started this whole thing by applying to one scholarship. That’s it. I won that scholarship ($1,500 a year for the rest of my education) and that’s what motivated me to apply for more. Some students create massive goals for themselves and set out to win a ton of scholarships, yet they soon find the process to be daunting and give up. The best piece of advice I can give you is to start small. Don’t try to find hundreds or even dozens of scholarships in one shot. Instead, find five scholarships that have deadlines within the next six months and make it a priority to apply for them. First off, it’s a lot easier to find five scholarships that you not only qualify for, but feel you have a solid shot of winning. Second, this will be enough of a taste of the application process to help you determine whether or not you’d like to keep this whole scholarship thing up. If you do end up winning a scholarship, or if you simply enjoyed the process, then you can go to town and apply for many more. Until then, keep it simple.

Select the Right Scholarships. National corporate scholarships draw a lot of applicants so even if you are eligible, the odds of you winning are low in comparison to the smaller ones. The same goes for awards with very limited requirements. What should you do then? I suggest that your five scholarships look something like this:

  • Two national scholarships (examples: Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, etc.)
  • Three small or local/state scholarships (examples: Central Massachusetts Community Foundation, City of Boston Scholarship Fund, The Girl Friends Fund Scholarship, etc.)

This mix still gives you the opportunity to win a national award but increases your chances of success by including smaller, local scholarships that receive fewer applicants.

Take Your Time. Now that you’ve got your scholarships selected, you should put maximum effort into completing the applications to the best of your abilities. Don’t procrastinate until the night before the essay is due and just slap a few things together with the hope that it’s good enough – really research and consider what each scholarship organization values and try to highlight the areas of your life that reflect these values.

Push Through It! You are going to feel unsure. Maybe you hate your essay. Maybe your resume feels lacking. You get stuck, then procrastinate, then neglect and before you know it, the deadline has passed and you didn’t apply for the scholarship. Don’t let this happen! If you don’t apply, you will never have a chance of winning. Push through those feelings of frustration, ask for help if you need it and just submit your scholarship application. Trust me, you’ll be happy that you did.

Diane Melville is the author of The Community College Advantage and president of the community college planning website, Transfer Bootcamp. Diane has applied for more than 300 scholarships (using Scholarships.com, of course!) and paid for her entire college education using private scholarships. She hopes to use this blog to share everything she has learned about paying for college.


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