How to Apply for College Scholarships

When Should You Apply?

This falls under “general advice” about scholarships. The process of applying can be involved, but it shouldn’t become unduly difficult because of overlooking a step or missing a deadline. You know you’re going to need money for school. You don’t want to go into debt with student loans, which means you have two other viable choices: grants and scholarships.

Either choice means you need to plan ahead, read and follow all application instructions, and know to whom you are talking. You will be showing your strengths and discussing weaknesses. You also need to be concise. Explain it, then move on. You will make mistakes, so proofread your applications. Better yet, get someone else to do so. Request letters of recommendation ahead of time so you have them ready to submit with your application. Finally, submit on or before the due date.

Your university will post deadlines for every scholarship it offers. Other sources will do so as well. Go to the school office or look at the scholarship website and seek out information on deadlines for each scholarship in which you are interested. You want to give yourself plenty of time to gather all of your paperwork, fill the application out, have it edited, and include recommendation letters and essays.

If, for instance, you know that a scholarship deadline is October 1st, then you should start two months early (even three, if possible) to work on your application and complete it before the deadline.

If you are an incoming freshman, ask your school counselor about deadlines. If you are in your senior year of high school, start applying just as soon as the application window opens. The more time you give yourself, the better.

Ways to Help You Pay for Your College Tuition

ways to pay for your college tuition


Financial Aid



Searching for Scholarships

School Counselor

Your high school counselor is the perfect person to go to for any questions you have. They receive reams of information every semester about current scholarships and new ones. They also know about those unusual or esoteric scholarships that only a few students may qualify for; for left-handed artists, students of different ethnicities or races, or even students majoring in a STEM program.

During your junior and senior high school years, make it a habit to drop in on your school counselor. You should begin by asking them about the basics on getting needed funds for college. Ask them about the differences between scholarships, grants, and student loans and how to focus in on the first two options. It’s pretty likely that you were assigned to your school counselor in your freshman year. They have gotten to know you, so they should be able to help you.

Online Searches

Once you have an idea of the scholarships you want to pursue, you can start your online search. Any search engine will return tens of thousands of results for you. You can refine your search by specifying your major, a personal interest, or a way in which you are unique.

If, for instance, you are a paraplegic, Hispanic student, interested in a STEM career, you can enter those parameters right into the search bar. Look through the results and paste the titles and links for the scholarships you’re most interested in on a separate document. This will give you a base to start from without wasting time looking at each one and having to start your search from the beginning when you come back to it.

School of Choice

Whether you have been accepted to a particular university or not, feel free to go through their scholarships. First-year students will be considered for scholarships based on the information in their entrance applications. You may have the opportunity to submit additional information for different types of scholarships.

If you have decided to attend a particular university, you should begin applying for scholarships right away. If you will be applying for more than one scholarship, you’ll be busy with your applications for a while. Look through the scholarship page of the university’s website and choose the ones you’re most interested in.

State Resources

Your state likely has several resources that can help defray the expense of your university education. Your state’s education agency may maintain a portal of scholarships for which you may qualify. Even though you’re using a state website, you may also spot some federally-funded state scholarship programs.

Depending on your major or the things that make you unique, you should find a good listing of scholarships for which you can apply. Your state may be home to federal scientific labs or military bases. Both employ graduates from a range of majors; BBA, MBA, psychology, STEM, social work, and others.

Other Sources

When you are looking for scholarships, go to the main website of each scholarship, never rely on, or apply through, lists that may be outdated. Though scholarships with fees exist, you should not have to pay anything to get money for school. If a scholarship says it requires a fee and you are interested, you must research heavily before applying. If you hear the following words: “We need your bank account number”, hang up. This is a blatant scam. Wouldn’t you just love to have someone else do all the work? Don’t fall for that one, either. You give up a lot of personal information.

If a scholarship sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. A few signs include:

  • “Exclusive” information
  • “Free” money
  • “You’ve been selected”
  • “Free seminar”

All of the above are almost guaranteed to be scams. If you run across such an offer, investigate rather than taking them at face value. The scholarship office should be your first stop. Next, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Better Business Bureau (BBB), your state attorney general’s office, or the National Consumer League’s Fraud Center are all excellent places to begin.



At the beginning of October, the application window for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens up. Now you, and millions of other college students, can submit new or updated applications. Your FAFSA gives you access to more than $120 billion in work study, loans, federal grants, and scholarships. The earlier you fill your form out, the more likely you are to receive this precious financial aid. Think of it as a first-come-first-served system.

It’s more than likely that you do qualify for aid. Even if your parents earn good income, you can qualify for federal aid. It’s a fallacy that aid from the federal government is only for those who can demonstrate the highest financial need. The baseline for qualification is any income below $250,000. So, the funds are there. If you have college and career goals, you should apply. If you are worried about grades, don’t be. Also, age doesn’t disqualify you.

Even if you are not looking for federal financial aid, you should fill out a FAFSA. Your family’s circumstances may change and the information it provides can be useful, or necessary, for filling out other scholarship application forms. The form is no longer a time-consuming process to fill out. It’s been made simpler to complete.

Get Organized

  • FSA ID -
    This is your username and password that allows you to log into Department of Education websites. Create this before you begin to fill out your FAFSA.

  • Driver’s license number -
    If you don’t have a driver’s license, this won’t stop you from applying. However, if you have one, you have to provide the number.

  • Your Social Security number -
    This verifies to the U.S. Department of Education that you are a U.S. citizen. If you are a legal resident, use your Alien Registration Number.

  • Your tax returns from two years ago -
    FAFSA requires that, if you are applying for aid in the 2020-2021 academic year, you provide returns from 2018.

  • Your untaxed income records -
    Child support, veterans non-education benefits, and interest income. Again, this will be from two years ago.

  • Records of your assets -
    Checking and savings account balances and the value of any investments your parents hold. Report current data for these, not two-year-old data.

Pay Attention to Deadlines

This pertains to several deadlines - college application deadlines, FAFSA applications, and scholarship deadlines. These are hard-and-fast deadlines. If you miss them, you’ll miss getting into college or qualifying for scholarships. Applying for college on time means financial aid is available as soon as you receive an admission decision.

Submitting your FAFSA before the deadline means you’re one of the first in line for available funding. If you wait, you may not get as much money as you need - meaning you’d need to apply for student loans. If you find a scholarship you’re interested in, whose deadline has passed, set a reminder for the following year.

Follow Instructions and Double-Check Your Application

Typos and other overlooked mistakes may mean your scholarship application is set to the side, with the funds given to another student who proofed their application carefully. Once your application is complete, spell-check it. Don’t rely on spell-check - it can miss small mistakes like its and it’s or there, they’re, and their.

Write short and concise sentences. Application committees have hundreds of applications to review. Cut out unnecessary words and just get to the point. Give specific examples when asked. Explain what organizations you’ve been involved with are and tell committees what your role was. Explain how your involvement made you who you are today.

Keep a Copy

This may mean that you maintain copies of awards, recognitions, and anything else that might tell a scholarship committee who you are and what you’ve achieved. This can become a portfolio that you can send along when it’s appropriate to send extra information with an application. In this portfolio, you can include anything you think may be pertinent to current or future scholarships.

You should also write your personal story and save it in as a document. As you fill out several scholarship applications, you’ll find that this makes the process much easier and faster. You won’t want to copy and paste this into your new essay or application, but it will give you a base to start from and upcycle into the perfect piece for the scholarship you’re applying to.

Whenever you finish filling out a scholarship application, save it as either a document or print it out. This will make annual scholarship application time much easier, especially if you are going to apply for the same scholarship in later years. If you think about it, applying for more than one scholarship at a time will take up much of your available time.

Set Aside Time

When you apply for a scholarship, “time” is the word you need to remember. Give yourself enough time to fill each application out correctly and in full. Also, you should give yourself time to find as many scholarships as you qualify for. Which means you need to fill each one out and submit them in a timely manner.

Save time, by customizing internet searches (hobbies, major, location, interests, enrollment level, and even your heritage). Even if the scholarship isn’t worth more than $1,000, apply. That’s money you won’t have, otherwise.

Scholarships in which you’re interested may require that you include a set number of letters of recommendation. Again, you need time. Time to speak to the people who will be writing these letters; time for them to write the letters and get them back to you. You may even think about asking for some of these before you start your scholarship search, especially if you have a close relationship with a teacher or mentor who you think would have something to say about you.

You also need time to go over your application and ensure that you have corrected errors. You should also consider taking time for someone else to do the same thing. Finally, take the time to make sure you package your application as specified. Each scholarship website will specify how to do so.

Keep at It

Scholarships will help you to save money. Even if you are being told that it isn’t necessary to apply for a scholarship, you should apply and keep on applying. For instance, if you are or were in the military, you may have been told that education benefits make scholarships unnecessary. This is wrong. Tuition assistance will only cover roughly $750 of your tuition, plus a few fees.

Ignore what you’re told about applying for scholarships being too difficult. At most, you have to fill out a few forms. You may occasionally have to write an essay when a scholarship requests one. Scholarships are easy to find, when you know where to look for them.

Additionally, you may not need to reapply for scholarships. As long as you meet renewal requirements, it may automatically renew for the upcoming semester.