How to Find and Apply for Scholarships

Friday, November 17, 2023

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Scholarships are a win-win: students can help reduce the costs associated with attending college while also adding to their resumes. As a bonus, the vast array of scholarship options means there is truly an opportunity for every student. However, it can be challenging to know where to find the right scholarships, and the process of applying for them on top of your college applications can seem daunting.  

While the application process will vary depending on the scholarship you are pursuing, there are some tried-and-true tips that can help students stand out from the pack. Keep reading to learn more about what it takes to craft a compelling scholarship application. 

How Do I Find Scholarships? 

Your school counselor can be an excellent resource for scholarship opportunities. You can also search tons of scholarships on numerous online databases — check out our list of resources below. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships as well, so it’s worth checking the schools on your college list to see what they offer and if you qualify. These scholarships are available through alumni clubs, academic departments, endowments, and athletics, just to name a few sources.   

As you research your scholarship options, it’s important to verify whether the funding is merit-based or need-based. Merit scholarships are awarded based on your academic performance or extracurricular achievements, while need-based is awarded solely on financial need. You may qualify for both types of scholarships, but the requirements will vary for each.  

When to Start Applying for Scholarships

You should start applying for scholarships the summer before your senior year, though your search for scholarship money should start while you’re a junior. Starting early gives you the time to research and identify scholarships that align with your needs and goals. It also allows you time to plan your application strategy and gather the necessary documents. This can significantly reduce the stress of the application process.   

A little preparation will help you submit your scholarship applications well ahead of deadlines and ensure that all requirements are met. An organized and diligent approach can help you maximize your scholarship opportunities, reduce the financial burden of college tuition and the need for student loans, and make the transition to higher education more affordable and manageable.  

How Do I Apply for Scholarships? 

Application criteria varies for each scholarship provider, so it’s important to read through the instructions carefully. Ensure that you have all the required materials ready to go. Hopefully you gathered everything you might need in advance! Now you’re ready to complete your application. We offer some additional tips below to help you with the application process, including writing your scholarship essays.  

The amount of scholarship money and other financial aid you are awarded can make a difference in which school you decide to attend, which is why it’s important to be thoughtful and strategic when selecting and applying for scholarships.

7 Tips for Applying to Scholarships 

Some aspects of applying for scholarships are similar to applying for college. These tips can help you streamline the process and make productive use of your time. 

Do Your Research and Be Selective 

Much like the college planning process itself, there are a plethora of scholarship opportunities available to every student. Instead of applying to the first few scholarships you see, take the time to research each option and select a manageable number. Focusing on quality over quantity will enable you to give each application the time and attention needed in order to set yourself apart. Start by choosing three to five scholarships to apply for. Work on each application thoroughly and add on several more if you find you have additional time. 

As for which scholarships to choose, thoroughly review your options to identify the opportunities that best align with your needs and goals. If you’re looking for a starting point, consider researching opportunities that relate to your interests and passions. There are scholarships for every sport, artistic pursuit, and field of study, so don’t be afraid to narrow your search to options that are truly best fits for you. 

Prioritize Passions 

The same interests and passions that help define you as a college applicant can also set you apart in your scholarship search. Scholarship judges look for students who are eager to learn more and deepen their expertise in a specific field through higher education. Focus on scholarships that directly relate to your interests, college goals, personal achievements, and background. The most compelling applications are well-researched and relevant to the scholarship for which you are applying. Choosing scholarship opportunities that are truly relevant to you will not only make it easier to complete the application process but will also make you stand out as an exceptionally qualified applicant. 

It’s essential to tailor any essays to each opportunity and address the questions that are asked. Avoid cookie-cutter responses and make sure each sentence you write supports what you’re trying to demonstrate. Use research to back up your claims when applicable and make sure your long-term aspirations and ambitions are demonstrated throughout your application. Be sure to include specific examples that highlight your dedication to a certain craft or cause and your curiosity and desire to continue learning and growing. 

Understand Your Audience 

Depending on the scholarships you are applying for, different qualities or achievements may carry more or less weight. Many scholarships are nuanced and looking for students who can express a certain interest, passion, or idea. Before penning your essay, gain a thorough understanding of the specific scholarship program and what it is designed to reward. Tailor your college essay or application to that program and the values or qualities they have emphasized. A one-size-fits-all essay rarely cuts it. 

Mind the Fine Print 

The rules and regulations for application processes can differ significantly, depending on which scholarship a student is applying for. To be competitive throughout the application process, applicants need to make sure they are following proper protocol. This can include submitting applications by certain deadlines and providing all the materials outlined in the opportunity. Some scholarships may ask for high school transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation, so make sure you have everything you need. 

Read all the details to ensure you’re eligible for the scholarship and have what you need to submit. Also, make sure to spend some time looking for various tools and resources that can help you in the process. 

Don’t Leave It to the Last Minute 

While specific timelines vary, many scholarships are open to high school juniors and seniors. Keep scholarships on your radar throughout high school — getting a jump start on applications will prevent you from working down to the wire. The summer before senior year can be an excellent opportunity to make significant progress on your scholarship applications. Starting them early will also ensure you will have ample time to focus on your college applications and help you avoid the stress of having to complete both at once. Set aside time on weekends or during school breaks to work on scholarships and stick to the schedule you create. 

Keep Tabs on Deadlines 

Between finishing standardized testing and getting ready to submit college applications, it can be easy to lose sight of a deadline. However, students who wish to be competitive for scholarships must follow their guidelines and submit their entries promptly. Planning ahead will also give you ample time to gather additional materials, like recommendation letters or a portfolio of work. Stay on top of every scholarship you’re interested in by jotting down deadlines in your planner or notebook. You can even set calendar reminders to let you know when a deadline is a few weeks away so that you have time to put the finishing touches on every submission. 

Get a Second Set of Eyes 

To make sure you present yourself in the best light possible, re-read every element of your application before hitting submit. Don’t forget to proofread for grammar and punctuation errors; you should treat scholarship applications with the same level of care as college essays. Reading your work out loud can also help make sure your tone is consistent. Once you are confident in your essay draft, consider sending it to someone you trust for review and feedback. A second set of eyes can help you catch any careless mistakes you might have overlooked. Even the most well-written essays can benefit from editing by a peer, parent, teacher, or even a college counselor

College Scholarship Resources 

BigFuture Scholarship Search

The College Board’s BigFuture Scholarship Search resource includes more than 6,000 programs and over $4 billion of aid money. Its personalization options help to ensure search results are relevant to specific applicants. 

With over 3.7 million college scholarships and grants, provides applicants with a high number of opportunities. The website also has a scholarship directory for students who are eager to view as many options as possible. 


This scholarship search resource also includes part-time job listings for students who want to gain work experience while on campus. Fastweb also creates lists and categories to make it easier for students to stay on top of their to-do lists. 


Signing up on this website allows you to use a tool that matches scholarships to your profile. Unigo also awards a scholarship each month to the student who submits the best essay of 250 words or less. 

U.S. Department of Labor 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s database allows you to search a list of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students.  

While applying for college scholarships is a time commitment, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to earn some recognition for your interests, skills, and passions. Scholarships are also a fantastic way to hone your writing skills and reduce the cost of college tuition. If you are beginning your college search and looking for expert input, our team of admissions counselors can help guide you through every step of the college admission counseling process, including your scholarship applications! 


Related Topics

College Application Tips, Financial Aid
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