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Narrow Your Scholarship Search Using 1-2-3 Prioritization

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

There are billions of dollars in FREE money available for U.S. students to attend college, and one the best ways to up your chances of receiving a scholarship is to pursue opportunities that are tailor-made for you. As you investigate scholarships opportunities, focus your attention on scholarships that fit you and your interests, using 1-2-3 prioritization:

Start Local

When you apply to college this year, the last thing you want to do is bank on your ability to outcompete every high school senior in the country. When you send your applications, you will be one of 6.6 million or so students around the U.S. applying to colleges. That's a giant pool of potential competitors!

The simplest way to narrow your competition is to look local. The more local the opportunity, the smaller your pool of potential competitors. For instance, of those 6.6 million U.S. students, only about 1.35% live in Oklahoma. If you look more local, only 0.23% live in the Oklahoma City school district. More local still... 0.0045% attend Jones High School.

  • All potential applicants: 6,600,000

  • Oklahoma applicants: 89,000

  • Oklahoma City applicants: 15,000

  • Jones High School applicants: 300

When you're applying for scholarships, it makes sense to cut your competition. If you are a student at Jones High School, and you apply to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Program, you will be competing with an untold number of students; if you apply to the Jones High School Scholarship, your chances of winning a scholarship go way up. It's simple math.

Numerous scholarships are awarded only to Oklahoma students. Others focus on residents of Oklahoma and neighboring states. Some even have long-term residency requirements. 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.

Consider your interests

  • Do you enjoy duck hunting? Did you know that the town of Stuttgart, Arkansas awards over $4,000 in scholarships each year to duck callers through the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest?

  • Are you a Trekkie? The International Star Trek Fan Association (aka "Starfleet Academy") awards $1,000 to Starfleet members each year.

  • Love Magic: The Gathering? Apply to the Gamers Helping Gamers Scholarship. "If you can wax poetic about your love for Magic: The Gathering (specifically, about the impact the game has had on your life and your favorite and least favorite cards) and you have financial need, you're eligible for this enchanted scholarship."

  • Incredible at League of Legends, Overwatch, or Hearthstone? As eSports gain popularity, some schools have created eSports facilities and curricula to promote gaming as a collegiate sport. Some of the programs actively recruit for players, allowing students to directly apply to the college as an eSports hopeful student. Dozens of colleges now give awards ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 to the nation's top eSports players.

  • Are you a caddie? The Western Golf Association's Evans Scholars Program covers full tuition and housing and is renewable for four years!

"If you can wax poetic about your love for Magic: The Gathering (specifically, about the impact the game has had on your life and your favorite and least favorite cards) and you have financial need, you're eligible for this enchanted scholarship."

Consider your gifts and your interests, and look for opportunities tailored to you. Chances are they're out there. Plus, you'll have an opportunity to write an essay or create an application that is actually interesting to you!

Additionally, if you have already chosen a school, you will undoubtedly find numerous awards offered to prospective students. The University of Tulsa, for instance, offers scholarships to freshmen students based on academic achievement and maintains a list of outside undergraduate scholarships that apply only to the university. Many schools also offer assistance to students in a particular major and to students enrolled in sports, band, or other extracurriculars. If you have already chosen your school (or if you have narrowed your list), you can explore these opportunities, too.

Investigate Opportunities Related to Your Heritage, Your Beliefs, or Your Background

Scholarships related to your ethnicity, your country of origin, and your religious affiliation are among the easiest to find and may be a great resource for students who don't want to contend for wide-open national scholarships.

As with the geographical opportunities discussed above, when you look for scholarships and other opportunities related to your heritage, you'll want to drill down as much as possible. Before you search for "Latino scholarships", search for opportunities for Mexican Americans, Guatemalan Americans, etc. Before you search for "Native American scholarships", try, for instance, "Caddo Nation scholarships" or "Kaw Nation scholarships". Instead of "scholarships for black students", look for awards given to Nigerian Americans, Kenyan Americans, etc.

The Jorge Mas Canosa Freedom Foundation, for instance, offers the Mas Family Scholarship each year to students born in Cuba or who are of Cuban descent.

Additionally, many religious groups and denominations offer scholarships for members. Your local congregation may even offer a scholarship only for congregants. Southern Baptists, for instance, could apply to the WMU Foundation Scholarship, and a Quail Springs Baptist Church member could apply for an award offered only to QSBC members.

For students who have encountered a life-changing event (e.g. battling a disease, immigrating to the United States, losing a loved one, taking an adventurous vacation, working with a mentor) - anything, really that changed the trajectory of your life - you will likely find a scholarship relevant to your experience.

If you can use an internet search engine, you can winnow down that daunting list of scholarship awards using the 1-2-3 prioritization. You'll simplify your search and up your odds.

- Randy Biggs

Owner, Heritage College Prep

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