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Scholarships Guidelines

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Scholarships Guidelines

Here is a complete set of instructions and information for finding a scholarship for your education. You must read all this before you start finding a scholarship:

Develop Your Scholarship Strategy

Although most student aid comes in the form of federal education loans and grants from colleges, scholarships -- with their lure of "free money" -- get a huge amount of attention from students and their parents. If you decide to invest your time in a search for scholarships, it's important to have an organized system to find, apply for, and win scholarship money.

Start With a Personal Inventory

Most of the information you will be asked for on a scholarship search questionnaire will be easy to come up with -- year in school, citizenship, state of residence, religion, ethnic background, disability, military status, employer, membership organizations, and so forth.

Beyond those questions, you will have to give some thought to your academic, extracurricular, and career plans. You should ask yourself:

  • Do I want to participate in a competition? If so, what are my talents and interests?
  • What subject do I plan to major in?
  • What career do I plan to pursue?
  • Do I want to apply for all types of aid or only scholarships?

Your answers to these questions will help determine your scholarship eligibility. Take your time brainstorming and don't overlook anything -- the more personal characteristics you discover, the more scholarships you could potentially apply for.

Research Local Scholarships First

In general, the smaller the geographical area a scholarship covers, the better your chances of winning. Begin with your university guidance office. Counselors will know about scholarships for students graduating from your university. They may also be aware of scholarships for residents of your town, county, and state.

Your next stop should be the college aid section of your public library. Most libraries will have a number of books about financial aid, including scholarship guides such as the Govt. College University Library. They also may have information on local scholarships.

Check Membership Organizations and Employers

Organizations of all types and sizes sponsor scholarships -- leave no stone unturned. Explore categories you might not have considered, such as religious, community service, fraternal, military, union, and professional.

And don't forget your parents. Many large companies offer scholarships or tuition programs for children of employees. If you are uncertain, ask your parent to check with his or her human resources department.

Use a Free Scholarship Search Service

A scholarship search company collects information on hundreds of awards and compares your student characteristics with scholarship restrictions. Based on your answers to a questionnaire, you will receive a list of possible scholarships. It is up to you to decide which ones you will try for.

You should never have to pay for scholarship information. If you're asked to pay a fee for "exclusive" scholarship leads, there's a good chance your scholarship service is really a scholarship scam.

Research Institutional Scholarships

Since the vast majority of all scholarship money is disbursed by colleges, it makes sense to research what kinds of scholarships are available at the schools that interest you. Check out college websites, catalogs, and financial aid offices for this information. Institutional awards can be offered on a university-wide basis, or within a particular college or major. Eligibility for such awards can be based on merit, financial need, intended major, ethnicity, or a variety of other factors. Here are some questions you might want to ask about these awards:

Are scholarships awarded automatically if a student matches certain criteria (such as GPA or SAT® score)?
What is the application procedure? What materials are required?
Is the award renewable? What are the requirements to maintain the award

Scholarship Application Tips

The Money Is There, But You Have to Ask for It

The scholarship application process is very similar to the college application process. First, you filter a large list of possible choices into a focused list that matches you. Then you create compelling applications that are supported by your achievements, essays, recommendations, and interviews. Here are some tips to help you create strong scholarship applications.

1. Application Tips

There's a lot of advice out there about the best way to apply for scholarships -- how to "package" yourself in your essay, what extracurricular activities to emphasize, etc. The truth is, much of this advice can vary widely, depending on the author -- what works for one applicant may not necessarily work for another. You'll discover that most of the scholarship secrets you'll read about boil down to using your common sense and following directions carefully.

2. Start Your Research Early

The more time you can put into your scholarship search, the more options you'll have. You'll need time to research scholarships, request information and application materials, and complete your application -- plus, some scholarships have deadlines early in the fall of senior year. Use Scholarship Search to get started.

3. Read Eligibility Requirements Carefully

If you have a question about your eligibility for a particular scholarship, contact the scholarship sponsors.

4. Organize All Scholarship Materials

Create a separate file for each scholarship and file by application date. Keep a calendar of application deadlines and follow-up appointments.
Many scholarships require you to provide them with some combination of the following:

  • Transcript
  • Standardized test scores
  • Financial aid forms
  • Parent's financial information, including tax returns
  • One or more essays
  • One or more letters of recommendation
  • Proof of eligibility (e.g. membership credentials)

You may also need to prepare for a personal interview. For students competing for talent-based scholarships, an audition, performance, or portfolio may be required.

5. Proofread Your Application Carefully

Use your computer's spelling and grammar check features. Have a parent, teacher, or friend read your essays.

6. Don't Leave Items Blank

Contact scholarship sponsors if you aren't sure how to fill out any part of the application.

7. Follow Instructions to the Letter

Avoid going over the length limit for the essay, and resist the temptation to send supporting materials that are not requested in the application.

8. Make Sure Your Application Is Legible

Type or print your application forms and essays.

9. Make Copies of Everything You Send

If application materials are lost, having copies on hand will make it much easier to resend your application quickly.

10. Double-Check Your Application

If you're reusing material (such as a cover letter or essay) from another scholarship application, be especially careful you haven't left in any incorrect names or blank fields. Don't forget to sign and date your application.

11. Get Your Applications in Early

You'll miss out if you miss deadlines. Consider using certified mail or return receipt.

Things You Should Not Ignore!

If you hear these lines from a scholarship service, you may be getting cheated:

"The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back."

No one can guarantee that they'll get you a grant or a scholarship. Refund guarantees often have conditions or strings attached. Get refund policies in writing -- before you pay.

"You can't get this information anywhere else."

There are many free lists of scholarships available. Start researching scholarships at the high school or library before you decide to pay someone to do the work for you.

"I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship."

Never give out credit card or bank account number on the phone without getting information in writing first. It may be the set-up for an unauthorized withdrawal from your account.

"We'll do all the work."

Don't be fooled. There's no way around it. You must apply for scholarships or grants yourself.

"The scholarship will cost money."

Don't pay anyone who claims to be "holding" a scholarship or grant for you. Free money shouldn't cost a thing.

"You've been selected" by a "national foundation" to receive a scholarship or "You're a finalist" in a contest you never entered.

Before you send money to apply for a scholarship, check it out. Make sure the foundation or program is legitimate.

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