I am the first to admit that applying for scholarships can be overwhelming. Between working 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. Below, I have outlined my top tips on how to stay organized and use your time wisely.
1. Start early
My first piece of advice is, essentially, to not procrastinate!
If you are a current high school student 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. 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 is better to create your plan of action early so you know what to expect and will be prepared to seamlessly apply to scholarships once you are ready and/or able to.
If you are a current or upcoming college or graduate student, the same advice applies; say you are starting school in September, it would be smart to consider starting your scholarship search approximately 6 months to a year before your start date so you have ample time to apply for as many as possible.
2. Identify your reasons for applying
When you begin your search, you will 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, it is 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 to 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.
3. Locate your scholarship resources
This is where the Access platform comes in handy! Spend some time filling out information about yourself, including your potential major, grades, interests, and more, and my database will return an entire list of scholarships that we think will be a great match for you.
On top of my platform, be sure to check out potential offline scholarships that are offered for students within your home community, on your campus, or through other programs that you may be a part of. For leads on these scholarships, consider reaching out to your guidance counselor if you’re in high school, or heading into the financial aid department if you’re in college.
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.
4. Think big and small
While it is 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 is important to remember that you are certainly not the only student to have eyes on the big prizes! Therefore, a smart strategy to employ during your research is to diversify the types of scholarships you apply to, similar to the way you might want to diversify an investment portfolio. The goal is to find an even balance between applying to big-name scholarships (potentially high value but also a low chance of winning) and smaller, potentially lesser-known scholarships (perhaps lower value but also a potentially higher chance of winning).
5. Gather all necessary materials
Now that you have your scholarship goals and resources identified, at this stage, you will want to start gathering the documents and information that is generally required regardless of the scholarship you are applying to. Some of the information that scholarships may ask for when you apply (depending on the type of scholarship) is:
Letters of recommendation
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 are going to answer them, rather than having to completely start over for each application.
6. Make Excel your new best friend
If you are applying to scholarships that are outside of the Access Scholarship platform, 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 your spreadsheet to take note of the specific deadlines 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!
To sum up, while I know that the process of applying to scholarships can be stressful, it certainly doesn’t have to be. By following the steps I have outlined above, from organizing your key documents and information to knowing where to search, I can guarantee you will be the most organized student in the scholarship search game.
Guest Post by Ayden Berkey, Co-Founder of Access Scholarships