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8 Crucial Steps for Winning a College Scholarship

This year, there will be nearly 2 million private fellowships and scholarships worth billions of dollars awarded to U.S. students. Odds are, your student won't be one of the recipients... least, that is, if you take the same approach to scholarships that most students do.

Since tuition continues to climb year after year, scholarships are more important now than they have ever been. Scholarships are also your best chance to leave school without a huge student loan balance.

But how do you win a scholarship?

I won't pretend it's easy, but it is doable, so long as you following these 8 crucial steps.

8 Crucial Steps for Winning a College Scholarship

1. Start Early

Junior year early.

You can apply for most scholarships within 12 months of when they will be awarded (typically in the early spring). You do not want to be the applicant who submits an application moments before the deadline after the decision has probably already been made. Get your scholarship applications in no later than October of your senior year, even if you see that a scholarship has a December deadline.

2. Look Local

A number of scholarships are awarded only to Oklahoma students; some even have long-term residency requirements. "Local" can also mean "your community". For instance, if you are a member of a Native American tribe, you would be wise to look for scholarships offered only to tribe members or to Native Americans broadly.

If you look to the local scholarships first, (a) you dramatically reduce your competition, because you're no longer competing with students from all over the country or the world, (b) you will be applying for lesser-known scholarships, and (c) you will have an opportunity to make an impression upon someone who appreciates your experiences as a member of the community. Each of these factors will give you a leg up.

3. Understand What Makes You Interesting

You have lived a life that is different from everyone else on the planet. That makes you an interesting person. Your job is to figure out what exactly makes you interesting. Your essay and your application should show that you're different - that you think outside the box, that you take interest in something uncommon, that you excel where others don't, etc. If you can't decide what makes you interesting, elicit the help of a friend or family member; perhaps you can even reciprocate. When you find that thing, highlight it in your essay. Your essay needs to be a tool with which you can separate yourself from other applicants.

That said, if you don't think you're interesting enough, you need to work to remedy that ASAP. Volunteer. Take up a hobby. Do something challenging. Do something that terrifies you. Just be sure to jot something down about your experience.

4. Do the Heavy Lifting Up Front

This tip is probably going to sting a little at first, but you'll thank yourself for it later. When you sit down to write your first essay, you should write everything down. Try to jot down four or more of each of the following:

  • Fun anecdotes from your life.

  • Somber anecdotes from your life.

  • Descriptive explanations of your hobbies or interests.

  • Compelling turning points that affected your life or your thinking.

  • Interesting stories about people in your life.

This will accomplish three things: first, it will give you a treasure trove of paragraphs from which you can draw for essays on any number of topics; second, it will enable you to be your own editor - when you re-read your stories, you'll make minor changes that will undoubtedly make them better; and third, it will allow you to create an essay formula. Trust me - you'll thank both me and yourself later.

5. Review Your Social Media

Your online presence needs to reflect the wholesome individual you are... or the wholesome individual you have told others you are. If you write an essay touting your service to the community, but your Insta feed is replete with pictures of you holding red Solo cups, it is going to be difficult to win a scholarship; conversely, if you participated in a service project or had an exceptional violin recital, you should be sure your social media shows that side of you.

6. Get Lots of Recommendation Letters

Don't skimp on recommendation letters, and don't wait until the last minute to ask. Ask early, and ask often! You want a wide array of letters from a diverse collection of writers: teachers, counselors, religious leaders, community leaders, etc. A recommendation from your Latin teacher will probably carry more weight when you apply for that classical scholarship, but a recommendation from your pastor will better serve you when you apply to for a character-centric scholarship. Plus, if you encounter someone whose letter is a bit lackluster, you will have plenty of others to choose from.

7. Do a Little Research

If you apply, for instance, to the George and Donna Nigh Public Service Scholarship, you ought to know who George and Donna Nigh are, why the scholarship was established, who is awarding the scholarship, and who won the scholarship last year. You don't want you application to show that you sent the same canned essay for every scholarship. Make sure you express you appreciation for the giver of the scholarship by learning about the scholarship.

8. Go for Volume

You don't want to put all of your eggs in one basket here. Odds are, you are unlikely to win any individual scholarship for which you apply, but the more you apply for, the better your chances. Set aside a little time each week for scholarship applications, and go for volume.

Now, get to work!

- Randy Biggs

Heritage College Prep


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