Best practices for finding and filling out scholarship applications
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As your high school career winds down, you may need to start thinking about ways to finance your post-secondary education. While student loans are a viable option in many cases, it's also worth seeking out and applying for scholarships to help ease the financial burden of continuing your education. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find suitable scholarships in an endless sea of options, nor is it easy to define a winning strategy for filling them out. Below are some ideas that can help you overcome the challenges of finding and filling out scholarship applications.
Don't wait until the last minute. First things first, when starting your search for suitable scholarships to help fund your post-secondary education, don't wait until the last minute. The earlier you start, the less stressful the process will be. Once you do start your search, don't stop until you've found several scholarships that you qualify for. While you will likely eliminate many scholarships straight away because you don't meet the required criteria, with continued searching, you should have little trouble finding a variety of scholarships that you do qualify for. Once you've found several suitable scholarships, decide which ones you feel have the most potential, so you can begin narrowing down your options.
Don't just focus on the higher paying scholarships. As you're narrowing down your options, you may be tempted to focus your efforts solely on higher paying scholarships. This is a common mistake among scholarship applicants. Though obtaining a larger scholarship would undoubtedly be helpful, don't ignore the scholarships offering smaller rewards. Most likely, they have less competition, which increases the odds that you'll be selected as the winning applicant. Applying for scholarships with a range of monetary values is often a good way to maximize your chances of successfully obtaining a scholarship.
Regional, local, and school scholarships. In the same way that many lower value scholarships have less competition, so do many regional and local scholarships. While there's nothing wrong with applying for scholarships offered at the national level, you often have a better chance of securing some much-needed funds from regional and local scholarships because they generally have fewer applicants. Also, if you already attend or know which school you will be attending in the coming years, then definitely investigate the scholarships offered by the school, as well, because scholarships offered at the school level often have even fewer applicants than the regional and local ones.
Unique scholarships. While on the hunt for suitable scholarships, it is recommended that you also take note of any unique scholarships you qualify for. Depending on your personal characteristics and interests, you may qualify for such scholarships as the ones reserved for persons of tall stature (http://www.tallclubfoundation.org/scholarship-program.html), or bowling enthusiasts (https://www.bowl.com/scholarships), to name just two. While it can be harder to find unique scholarships matching your personal characteristics and interests, if you can manage to find one, it will likely have a limited pool of applicants, increasing your chances of success.
Following all instructions. When it comes time to start filling out your scholarship applications, always complete the applications in full and follow all provided instructions. Also, be sure to properly address your envelopes and affix enough postage to get your scholarship applications to their review committees by their stated due dates. The last thing you need to do is spend time completing a scholarship application, only for it to be misplaced in the mail or rejected on a technicality.
The essay. When filling out scholarship applications requiring essay submissions, take the time to craft a well-written piece deserving of the scholarship. After all, in many cases, the content of your essay will be more important to the scholarship committee than your academic record. As most scholarship applications with an essay portion provide a very specific word count to adhere to, stick to the specified word count so your application isn't rejected for failing to follow the essay guidelines. You should also have someone proofread your essay - and the rest of your scholarship application while they are at it - to ensure any errors are spotted and corrected before sending in your finished product.
Securing letters of recommendation. While certain scholarships don't require applicants to submit a letter of recommendation, many of the higher paying ones do. If a scholarship you are applying for asks for a recommendation letter, see if a teacher, coach, mentor, or employer will write one for you, as letters written by parents or other relatives may be considered biased by those judging the applications. If you are unable to acquire a suitable letter of recommendation, then only apply for scholarships that don't require one.
It's no easy feat to find and apply for educational scholarships. Despite the challenges of doing so, however, it's certainly worth the effort if it can help finance your continued education. While student loans are a viable option to cover the high costs of post-secondary education, scholarships - if you can get them - are often the superior choice because they won't later need to be repaid.