“Well begun is half done,” Aristotle had once said.
And he was right.
When it comes to applying for scholarships, front-loading really pays off. So take your time to carefully plan and organize, and you will save a LOT of time and energy in the long run.
front-load (verb): distribute or allocate (costs, effort, etc.) unevenly, with the greater proportion at the beginning of an enterprise or process.
When applying for scholarships, remember these 4 key ingredients:
1) organization; 2) initiative; 3) smart strategy; and 4) the right mindset
By the end of this article, you will have learned to apply these 4 essentials to your scholarship search and application process.
Hack #1: Keep a MASTER LIST of ALL the scholarships you ever apply to.
Make an excel sheet like this one, and for EACH scholarship, record the following information:
- Name of scholarship
- Category [see Hack #4 below]
- URL (link)
- Contact Info (email + phone)
- Requirements (essays, recommendation letters, transcripts, etc.)
- Scholarship Amount
- Date Submitted
- Winner Announcement Date
Tip: sort the scholarships according to their deadlines (click the little down arrow button 🔽 on the upper right corner of the “Deadline(s)” tab, then click on “Sort Sheet A –> Z”) or mark the deadlines on a physical calendar.
Hack #2: Gather the resources before starting the applications.
You may not need them all, but just in case, have all of these documents ready, in a single folder:
- work samples
- current resume
- tax returns
- w-2 and 1099 forms
- most recent federal tax return
- copy of your birth certificate
- copies of your social security card
- contact information for references (previous jobs)
- copies of letter(s) of recommendation [see Hack #3 below]
- scanned image of your signature
- scholarship application essays + personal statement [see Hack #5 below]
Tip: Also have your basic information (address, school history, test scores, etc.) typed up on a Word Document so you can easily copy-paste when filling out the gazillion applications.
Hack #3: Ask for letter(s) of recommendation (LOR) before you need them.
For each class where you a) did exceptionally well b) liked the professor and actually had a relationship with them or c) learned something invaluable and can apply those lessons to real life, ask the professor for a letter of recommendation.
While some professors will only directly email or mail the LOR to the institution/company/organization (because they don’t want you reading the LOR), you can propose this alternative: have them seal the LOR in a special envelope (with a signature or a stamp so that it cannot be duplicated), and have them indicate this somewhere in the LOR. They could write “VOID IF OPENED” on the flap of the envelope for extra security.
If the professor(s) agree to give you the letter(s) of recommendation, save them (resist the temptation to open them!) for future use.
Hack #4: Identify and “categorize” the scholarships.
As you do your scholarship search, you’ll notice that most scholarships fall under a “category”: merit-based, need-based, unique stories, career/major-specific, or college/region-specific.
On Google Drive, make a folder for each category and keep all your scholarship information, applications, and documents in the folders.
Hack #5: Recycle essays.
Scholarship applications are no different from job applications, in that there are many overlapping questions and qualifications.
The trick is to revamp and reutilize.
If you have applied to scholarships before, you probably already noticed that a lot of them ask very similar questions, like the ones below:
- how will winning this scholarship help you achieve your academic goals?
- what are your future aspirations/passions/hobbies?
Write a general essay answering the above questions, and use it as a template. Tweak it and tailor it to individual scholarships when you need to.
Hack #6: Save every single essay you’ve ever written and date them.
For the same reason as above, and also to see your progress, save every essay you submit! They might come in handy later, when you want to see which essay you’ve submitted to which scholarship applications.
Tip: When you attach a file with a scholarship application, always send it as a PDF file, unless otherwise specified. But make sure that you have the Word file, so that you can keep making changes.
Hack #7: Target small, local, or branded scholarships.
Many students go to the same exact places (those popular scholarship search engines), find the same national scholarships, and end up applying to the same exact scholarships.
Well, we all know that high competition means low chance of winning.
And we all know that the opposite is true as well: the lower the competition, the higher your chance of winning.
So spend some time researching small, local scholarships and apply away!
Hack #8: Don’t treat it like a lotto.
Applying for scholarships is very different from buying/winning a lottery — you actually need to put work into those scholarship applications. While some scholarship applications can be very draining and after a while just seems repetitive, give each one careful thought and put in the effort. Don’t treat it like a lotto and just leave it to your luck. You have to work for it.
Hack #9: Remain hopeful and positive.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re applying, applying, and applying, and not hearing back. But don’t lose hope! Keep applying. The key to staying positive is pacing yourself. Apply to one scholarship a week, or maybe one scholarship a month. Don’t think that you have to apply to every single scholarship out there. That is literally impossible.
Instead, find the ones you want to invest in. There are plenty of scholarships for your specific skill sets and preferences, so choose wisely and set pace!
Hack #10: Don’t feel entitled.
Nobody “owes” you money. The company/organization/institution is giving out money to help students like you. Be grateful and appreciative. If you win a scholarship, don’t forget to thank the people who awarded you the scholarship!
Are you ready to apply to some scholarships? Then head on over here! Good luck! 🙆