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If you’re hoping to help finance your college education with money you don’t have to pay back, you may be wondering how to win scholarships. There are many factors that go into getting scholarships or grants.
How to win scholarship or grants: 9 ways
1. Financial need 2. Academic achievement 3. Community service 4. Athletic accomplishments 5. Gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation 6. Parents’ place of employment 7. Being part of a military family 8. Unusual traits, skills or hobbies 9. Random luck
1. Financial need
Both the Department of Education and private sources award scholarship money to students with financial need. To qualify for federal- and state-funded grants, you must fill out the FAFSA. Submit it as soon as possible each year to get the most aid.
If you are not able to get the amount of federal aid you think you need, you might consider submitting the CSS Profile. This is an application you fill out through the College Board, and it’s focused on aid from college and other scholarship programs not associated with the federal government. The more financial need you have, the more scholarship money you might qualify for.
Select private organizations may also take financial need into account, although that’s usually not their only requirement. For example, the Bonner Scholar Program provides a full ride to students with financial need who are committed to social justice. The Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund similarly offers grants to community service leaders with demonstrated financial need.
2. Academic achievement
Being a star student is another common way to win scholarship money. Some colleges and organizations give prizes to students for their high school grades or scores on standardized tests.
Boston University and American University, among others, even offer full-ride scholarships to students with exceptional academic achievement. And the National Merit Scholarship Corporation gives $2,500 scholarships to some students who get top scores on the PSAT.
When applying for an academic merit scholarship, you’ll likely need to send your high school transcript, official score reports and recommendation letters from a teacher or two. After reviewing your record, colleges and committees could decide to reward all your hard work.
3. Community service
Students who volunteer in their communities may also be eligible for a number of scholarship opportunities. DoSomething.org, for instance, offers several scholarship opportunities ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 for working on quick campaigns to fight racism, encourage voting and more. The Equitable Foundation gives prizes of $2,500, $10,000, or $25,000 to students who made an outstanding contribution to their community.
It’s clear that volunteering for community service doesn’t just do good in the world — it may also help you pay for college. There’s little to lose when it comes to volunteering in your community. Even if you don’t ultimately get a scholarship, you’ll be making a difference, and that’s worth a lot, too.
4. Athletic accomplishments
The NCAA awards big scholarship money to Division I and Division II recruits. But you don’t have to be a superstar college athlete to get an athletic-based scholarship. If you play in high school but don’t plan to be a college athlete, you could still potentially win money for your involvement.
Sports Unlimited, for example, awards $1,000 scholarships to athletes who inspire the committee most with their essay. Foot Locker gives annual $20,000 scholarships to 20 students who demonstrate “excellence in school, on their sports team and in their communities.”
As for how to get scholarships for athletes, do some research online. Plus, ask your school counselor about local opportunities that might not be available nationwide.
5. Gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation
Many scholarship organizations provide financial support to minority or underrepresented students. Here are just a few examples:
Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship: Win up to $30,000 over four years at the school of your choice if you’re a student with a commitment to community service. This program is geared toward students of color. The Society of Women Engineers: Awards scholarships to all students who identify as women and are pursuing an ABET-accredited undergraduate or graduate degree in engineering, engineering technology or computer science. The website states that in 2019, SWE gave out close to 260 new and renewed scholarships at a value of over $800,000. Out to Innovate Scholarship: Provides two $5,000 annually — one undergrad and one grad-level — to LGBTQ+ or LGBTQ+-supportive students who plan to major in a STEM field.
If you’re part of an underrepresented group, or if you are a strong ally of such groups, you might find scholarships to support your college plans.
6. Parents’ place of employment
Many large companies offer corporate scholarships to the children of their employees.
The CVS Health Foundation Scholarship offers an undisclosed amount, but gives out awards to as many as 25% of applicants, according to their website. Intel’s Andy Grove Scholarship awards up to $4,000 for children of employees to pursue their education.
Children of federal employees might also win scholarship amounts from $1,000 to $5,000 from the Federal Employee Education Assistance Fund.
Talk to your parents to see if their place of work might offer this kind of benefit.
7. Being part of a military family
Not only does the military help active members pay for school, but it also offers scholarship money to the children or spouses of soldiers.
The AMVETS Scholarship, for instance, provides scholarships to veterans and their spouses who are looking to advance their career in the skilled trades industry or who are studying computer science. The Dolphin Scholarship gives $2,000 or $3,400 to children or spouses of active or former members of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force, or those who have supported the force.
8. Unusual traits, skills or hobbies
You don’t have to get straight A’s or be a star athlete to get scholarship money. Some organizations look for students with unconventional skills — or even simply for traits with which they were born.
Tall Clubs International, for instance, doles out awards to men who are at least 6 feet, 2 inches tall and women who are 5 feet, 10 inches or taller.
As for unusual skills, the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest awards students with a knack for duck calling $500 to $2,000 in scholarship money.
You might even find a scholarship that awards you for your last name. The Gatling Grant scholarship goes specifically to students with the last name Gatling or Gatlin. There’s one more requirement, though: You also have to attend North Carolina State University. If you run into another Gatling on campus, you’ll have an instant conversation starter.
9. Random luck
Finally, some scholarships work like the lottery: They randomly select winners. Most don’t even require an essay; all you have to do is put your name in the hat.
Some of these luck-of-the-draw scholarships include the Niche No Essay Scholarship, which awards $2,000, and the You Deserve It Scholarship, which awards $1,000. Your chances of winning may be slim — but it takes little effort to try.
12 tips for getting a scholarship or grant
Before you can win money for college, you need to know how to get a scholarship. Here are some tips to help you on your path.
1. Get involved 2. Create an accomplishments document 3. Dedicate a good amount of time to research 4. Make use of your connections 5. Consider everything you’ll need for your applications 6. Hone your essay-writing skills 7. Be careful with your online profile 8. Ensure everything is legit 9. Stay on top of deadlines 10. Apply, apply, apply 11. Narrow your focus 12. Follow directions
1. Get involved
As you see from the scholarship and grant possibilities noted above, there are a good amount of opportunities out there to help you finance your education. But in order to qualify for many of them, you have to be an involved member of your school or community. Make sure you take part in extracurricular activities that interest you, and think about the various ways you can volunteer in your community. The more skills you have and experiences you acquire, the more likely you may be to secure scholarships or grants.
2. Create an accomplishments document
Create a document that lists all of your accomplishments and skills in one place, from the academic and athletic to the community service-centric. It will help to have one document to reference as you look into the various scholarships and grants for which you might qualify.
3. Dedicate a good amount of time to research
Getting scholarships and grants should be considered something of a job. You should keep on top of all the scholarships available by doing your research thoroughly, including doing online searches and speaking with an academic counselor about opportunities. Make the most of scholarship search engines as well.
4. Make use of your connections
You know what people say — it’s not just what you know, but who you know. This is true in many cases. Think about your existing network and consider how the people in it might be able to help you on your quest to get a scholarship or grant. Don’t feel shy about approaching them, especially if you have a good relationship. You never know who may be able to help you in ways you never considered before.
5. Consider everything you’ll need for your applications
When applying for scholarships, there are several documents and files you may need to have on hand. Make sure you know how to access your school transcripts, ensure that you have a list of your employers and work experience handy if needed, have your parents’ financial information handy (particularly for filling out the FAFSA) and ask for letters of recommendation from teachers or others so you will have them when you need them.
6. Hone your essay-writing skills
Not all scholarship and grant applications require essays in their applications, but many do. Having a great essay could be the difference between getting a scholarship and leaving money on the table. If you feel your essay-writing skills could use some work, see if one of your current teachers or professors might be willing to help you. If not, look to hiring a tutor to help you craft a winning essay.
7. Be careful with your online profile
These days, your online presence can be extremely important when it comes to your educational or career path. When you are posting to Instagram, or TikTok or any number of social media outlets, always think about how what you are doing might be perceived by organizations that offer scholarships and grants. You would not want a moment of poor judgment to affect your chances of securing those funds (or even worse, affect your chances of attending the school of your choice). Even if you think what you are doing is “private,” anything you put online might find its way into the hands of those you didn’t intend it to.
8. Ensure everything is legit
As with many other things, there are scholarship scams out there. Particularly when applying online, make sure you are dealing with legitimate organizations, and be wary of anyone asking for payments of any kind. Also, if you get a notice saying you have won a scholarship you never even applied for, that may be a red flag.
9. Stay on top of deadlines
Don’t let a worthy opportunity pass you by — stay on top scholarship offers and their deadlines. Add the deadlines to your calendar, giving yourself a good amount of time to get the application in after you get the alert. If anything, you should apply early rather than wait for the final deadline day. It would be a shame to miss out on a scholarship or grant that may be perfect for you simply because you missed a deadline.
10. Apply, apply, apply
The more scholarships and grants you apply for, the better your chances may be of receiving one or several of them. And the more awards you get, the more you can chip away at your college bill. So don’t just stop at applying for one or two. Make a list of all the opportunities that fit your eligibility profile and apply to as many as you can.
11. Narrow your focus
That said, while you should apply for as many scholarships and grants for which you are qualified, don’t waste your time on applications for awards that you likely won’t qualify. If you aren’t heavily involved in community service, for example, don’t try to play up your small amount of experience for an award based on active service. Not only is that potentially unfair to applicants who are actually very involved in community service, but it’s likely a wasted effort. Concentrate on the awards for which you have a real chance.
12. Follow directions
When scholarship and grant programs give directions for how to apply, they mean what they say. So if they ask for a 500-word essay and you give them a 1,000-word essay, it’s unlikely they will award you for your extra effort. Instead, your application may be discounted because you did not follow the guidelines they gave. Don’t just skim directions, or follow them loosely. Do exactly what is asked.
Know all your options
Getting scholarships or grants is a great way to help fund your college education and avoid large amounts of college debt. However, if you can’t completely cover your education through these awards, student loans can help. You can go here to learn everything you need to know about federal and private student loans.
Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.