Scholarshipalooza--An All Access Guide to Funding One's Future
Updated: Feb 7
By Emma Duncan--Eagle Editor
By this point in the school year, most seniors have applied to colleges or trade schools, and some already know where they’ll be spending the next two to four years of their life, which takes a major weight off their shoulders and instead focus on school work and making their last year of high school the best it can be. However, the hours that were once set aside to spend on Common App aren’t all turning into free time just yet, as this is the prime time for students to apply for scholarships.
Scholarships are basically free money from local/national businesses, charitable organizations, individuals, or schools themselves. They range from a few hundred dollars to full tuition and can either be sent to one’s college or directly into the hand of the student to be used at their discretion. Scholarships are sometimes even tailored for a specific type of student, whether they’re first-generation (to go to college), a student of color, fostered/adopted, an athlete, or a student leader. Many scholarships even apply to a specific major, such as medicine, agriculture, or education. For every type of student, there’s probably a scholarship.
So with all of these options, where does one start? First, make a list of basic information about yourself; note GPA, significant/specialized classes, gender, race/ethnicity, intended major, intended college/university/trade school. Also include information about your family situation, responsibilities, personal challenges you’ve faced, and some of your top accomplishments. These will become your “scholarship keywords” and can be used to find scholarships as well as help you realize areas to improve.
“It is recommended that you start researching the various scholarships early on to find out the different criteria in order to build your competitiveness by volunteering, getting involved with various clubs and organizations, and maintaining your grades,” guidance counselor Denita Hampton shared.
Another important thing to understand is that you don’t necessarily have to be a senior in order to apply for scholarships. In fact, with everything that senior year entails, it’s best to begin researching (or applying to) scholarships and writing general “this is me, these are my plans” essays a couple of years in advance.
“There are a number of scholarship opportunities for students starting at an early age to apply for, even though the funding may not be available until college,” Hampton elaborated.
When researching, seeing $5,000+ scholarships is definitely appealing, but try to apply for more specific scholarships with a smaller award. Normally, this means you’ll be competing against a smaller application pool and your story or background will impact the scholarship review panel on a deeper level. A great place for students on campus to apply for scholarships like this is through the guidance website’s long list of scholarship opportunities.
“The scholarships posted on the FC Guidance Scholarship page are scholarships where donors or organizations have contacted us requesting we share and post their scholarship opportunities in support of our seniors,” Hampton explained. “Scholarships posted have different criteria based on what the donor or organization is looking for, whether it be merit, scholar, character, race, ethnicity, gender, athlete, student's future plans (major), financial need, hardships, beliefs, extracurricular involvement, volunteer work/work, accomplishments, leadership skills, the specific school you plan to attend, etc. The scholarships we have posted on the FC website are for graduating seniors planning to attend a college, university, or trade school.”
For students who already know what college, university, or trade school they’re attending, scholarships can also be found through that specific institution’s scholarship portal, which once again lowers the applicant pool significantly. These scholarships can be from the school as a whole, or from a specific program within the school.
Another way for students to obtain scholarships is through websites like Niche, Bold.org, and RaiseMe. By creating a profile with your academic, athletic, work history, career goals, etc. in under 20 minutes, you can receive scholarships from the colleges you’re applying to through RaiseMe’s partnership program. On Bold.org, you’ll be matched with scholarships that fit your background that can be applied to in several ways: by submitting an essay, another writing submission (poem, anecdote, etc.), a video explanation, or simply by submitting your profile.
Once you’ve researched and found the scholarships you want to apply to, it’s important to organize them so they can find a place in your busy schedule. A perfect way to do this is through Google Sheets, where you can organize scholarships by their due date and award amount.
“Get organized! Research and make a list of scholarships you are interested in, eligible [for], and plan to apply for early on,” Hampton added. “Set aside at least 1 hour a week during the school week and definitely take advantage of the weekends and school breaks to work on applications and to gather supporting documents!”
These supporting documents can be a head-and-shoulder photo, a resume, a letter of recommendation, and an essay in response to a specific prompt.
It may seem unnecessary, but sending in a photo gives the scholarship panel a better idea of the person behind the application.
Resumes are a way for panels to get a full-circle idea of your academic history, extracurricular activities, achievements/awards/honorable mentions, and work experience. A resume should be anywhere from two to four pages including the cover letter. A cover letter is a general statement to introduce yourself, give your qualifications for the scholarship, and explain what you’ll use the money for. It should be no more than one page (cover letter and resume templates).
Your resume will also be used when you ask for recommendation letters. These references are the only part of your application that someone else provides, typically written by a teacher, coach, or advisor who you’re in good standing with. Make sure this is someone you’ve collaborated with in the last two years, not your history teacher from freshman year.
“It's always good to ask the teacher [or other recommenders] as soon in advance as possible because we have a lot on our plates, plus lots of students who want letters, so the quicker we know, the quicker we can get the letter completed,” English teacher Kristina Osborne said. “The more information you can give us the better. If you know you might have more than one scholarship that requires a recommendation, try to provide as many of the links or emails with your request, or let the teacher know you might have other requests so they can keep a copy of the letter on hand. If you want to send the letter yourself, ask the teacher if they are okay with giving you a copy (or copies if you are doing multiple scholarships) in a sealed envelope.”
Potentially the most important part of a scholarship application is the essay. Scholarship essays are much more personal than those written for school, and they often have word count limits. You shouldn’t just repeat your resume. Instead, add some emotion, anecdotes, and even a little humor so scholarship panels can get to know your personality.
“Find something that is unique to you and your life [that] shows that you have something new and different to offer,” Osborne elaborated. “‘Unpack’ the prompt, look at who you are speaking to, what questions or information they want from you, what are some events/ideas that immediately come to mind, use strong verbs and formal language, and try to give what I call a ‘full circle’ approach. Start with what makes you a great candidate, why you would be a great representative of all the scholarship stands for, and how you will use your scholarship and the education it provides to help others the way you are being offered help. Admit when you were wrong or overconfident, speak about how you learned from mistakes, and make it clear that you are still willing to learn and grow as a person.”
One mistake many people make when writing these kinds of essays is to not answer the prompt at hand because they want to discuss several topics but can’t in much detail. It’s easy to get a certain story in your head and run with it instead of sitting back and really thinking about what you need to say. To prevent any issues, plan ahead and ask some trusted people to proofread your work.
“I would always suggest you proofread by yourself first (reading out loud to yourself is a great way to catch mistakes). I would also encourage students to ask their English teacher and their guidance counselor to proofread their work if they have time. However, I would look at their feedback and then decide what to keep or not. In the end, it's your essay and you know what you want to say, the prompt requirements, and how you want to sound/come across,” Osborne recommended.
This is a lot of information to keep up with, but don’t worry. You’ve got this! Even if you don’t win a certain scholarship, don’t get discouraged, because applying gives you practice and hones your skills. With a little time, effort, and dedication, you can fund your continued education.