Searching for Scholarships? Here's our Winning Strategy

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    Introduction: What is a Scholarship Strategy?

    Whether you've realized it or not, pretty much everything you do or have done involves some sort of strategy, aka a plan of action.

    Guess what? The process of searching and applying for scholarships is no different. If you are applying for scholarships, you definitely need a scholarship strategy. 

    Now, I will be the first to admit that applying for scholarships can be overwhelming.

    Between trying to balance schoolwork, jobs, extracurriculars, and other aspects of your life, you might be worried about how you are going to find the time and level of organization necessary to keep on top of your scholarship search.

    Lucky for you, I have outlined my own (dare I say, AMAZING!) scholarship strategy below, for you to use! 

    So, don't hesitate, don't bookmark this, and promise yourself that you'll come back to it later. Give it a read, use it to create your OWN scholarship strategy, and then get applying. 

    Step #1: Start early. 

    My first piece of advice is, essentially, to not procrastinate! 

    If you're a current high school junior or senior and you know you want to apply to some scholarships to help pay your way through school, then the best thing you can do is get started with the process early, meaning ASAP!

    Even if you aren’t yet eligible for some of the scholarships (because you are not the appropriate year in school or for some other reason), it's better to create your plan of action early.

    That way, you know what to expect and will be prepared to seamlessly apply to scholarships once you are ready and/or able to. 

    Tons of students ask me if it's possible to still apply for scholarships once they've entered college. The answer is 1000% YES! Regardless of what year in college you are, I promise there are scholarships out there for you!

    If you're currently in college or graduate school, you should definitely get into searching and applying for scholarships as soon as you can. Before you know it, you'll be preparing for graduation, and unfortunately, there aren't many scholarships that you will be eligible for once you've walked across the stage.  

    Step #2: Identify your reasons for applying. 

    When you begin your search, you'll find that there are hundreds of different types of scholarships out there and that all of them vary in terms of the amount of money that they give students.

    Therefore, at this stage in the process of developing your scholarship strategy, it's important to make a mental (or physical) list of the following things:

    • What is the yearly tuition for the schools that I am applying to (or the school that I am planning to attend)? 
    • How am I planning on financing my tuition? (Mostly through loans, scholarships, and grants, or through other means?) 
    • What is my goal of applying for scholarships? (AKA, am I trying to earn enough money to cover my entire tuition, or am I looking to reach a certain goal to pay for specific expenses, such as textbooks or other fees?) 

    Once you have asked yourself these questions and identified your answers, you will likely have a more concrete idea of the amount of time and effort you are going to have to invest in your scholarship search and application process. Your scholarship strategy is coming together! 

    Step #3: Locate your scholarship resources.

    A key part of any scholarship strategy is identifying your sources. This is where the Access Scholarships search engine platform comes in handy!

    Spend some time filling out information about yourself, including your potential major, grades, interests, and more, and our platform will return an entire list of scholarships that we think will be a great match for you.

    Additionally, when you create an account on Access Scholarships, you can sign up to receive emails when new scholarships are posted that might interest you.

    On top of our platform, be sure to check out potential offline scholarships that are offered for students within your local community, on your campus, or through other extracurricular programs that you may be a part of.

    Finally, consider doing some research on federal student grant programs that you may be eligible for. The majority of federal grants do not need to be paid off, making them similar to scholarships in that aspect.

    Step #4: Think big and small, and outside the box.

    While it's certainly easy to locate a handful of big-name (and big $$$) scholarships being offered by large companies and organizations and setting your eyes on applying to those, it's important to remember that you are certainly not the only student to have eyes on the big prizes!

    Therefore, part of a smart scholarship strategy is to diversify the types of scholarships you apply to, similar to the way you might want to diversify an investment portfolio to mitigate risk. 

    The goal is to find an even balance between applying for big-name scholarships (potentially high value but also a lower chance of winning) with smaller, potentially lesser-known scholarships (perhaps lower value but also a potentially higher chance of winning).  

    In addition to the big and small, I also want to discuss the importance of thinking outside the box when it comes to the types of scholarships you're applying for.

    Know that there are so many scholarships out there that go beyond just a college major or area of study. You can find scholarships based on so many other things too, such as your hobbies, interests, and the way you identify (ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc)! 

    So, before you even take the step to start searching for scholarships you might be a good fit for, I encourage you to take some time to just sit down and make a list.

    Aim to dig deep into yourself and think about everything you are, activities you are involved in, causes you support, and more.

    Once you have your list handy, you can then go through the process of not only searching for "STEM Scholarships" but also searching "Scholarships for Activists" or "Scholarships for Students of Color" to widen the range of opportunities that are open to you to apply for and hopefully earn some money from!

    Step #5: Gather all necessary materials.

    Now that you have your scholarship goals and resources identified, at this stage, you'll want to start gathering the documents and information that are generally required, and likely will be required for most of the scholarships that you find and want to apply for.

    Some of the information that scholarships may ask for when you apply (depending on the type of scholarship) includes:

    One major key to any scholarship strategy is doing things that will keep you organized and save you time. Having this information handy in a folder on your computer will help to make the process of applying to scholarships much quicker.

    Also, once you start applying for scholarships, you may find that certain scholarships require you to also answer specific essay questions and that these questions may be similar across scholarships.

    Therefore, another helpful section of your folder could be dedicated specifically to housing your essays for each of the scholarships you apply to.

    If there is any overlap in the questions being asked, it will definitely be helpful to have a point of reference when you're going to answer them, rather than having to completely start over for each application.

    Step #6: Make Excel your new best friend (to stay organized!!)

    Going directly off of Step 5, staying organized during this process is key!

    Excel is a great way to keep track of scholarships you are planning on applying to, ones you have applied to already, and ones you have heard back from.

    You can use a spreadsheet to take note of the specific deadlines and application requirements for each scholarship, which will ensure you never let a good opportunity pass.

    If you are not quite sure where to start with organizing your own Excel sheet, click here for a link to my pre-formatted Scholarship Tracker!

    Step #7: Apply to no-essay scholarships every month/quarter.

    When you start your process, you'll come across scholarships that are deemed as "easy".

    This is because they require very little effort other than entering your personal information. Despite the fact that you should definitely place more emphasis on applying for scholarships with more requirements, these are still an important part of your scholarship strategy.

    Applying to the quick, no-essay scholarships like our Too Cool to Pay for School Scholarship (along with the other scholarships in this post) when they are running (which is usually monthly or quarterly) is always a good idea.

    Not only will doing this make sure that you are staying on top of your search on a monthly basis, but it will also give you a greater chance at winning!

    In conclusion...

    To sum up, while I know that the process of applying for scholarships can be stressful, it certainly doesn’t have to be.

    From how to stay organized to where to search to how to get it done, we've covered a lot of ground here in this post!

    By following the steps in the scholarship strategy that I have outlined above, I can guarantee you will be the most prepared you can be to be successful in your quest of applying to scholarships.

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