College isn’t getting more affordable, and student loans affect millions of people every year.
One way to avoid that? Apply for more scholarships and grants to reduce the cost of tuition. But applying for these can be difficult, time-consuming and overwhelming. Many scholarships are for small sums and don’t seem to be worth the effort it takes to apply. Some students just get too tired at the end of the year to care.
The trick is finding little-known scholarships and grants that other students don’t consider. Here are our best tips on finding these scholarships and having your application approved.
Ask Advisors and Departments Directly
When you applied to college, you probably filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and accepted whatever money they gave you. You may have even applied for outside aid as well.
But once you’re in college, you forget to seek out new forms of aid. That’s where many students go wrong. They assume that if you don’t apply before your freshman year, you’re not eligible.
Many schools have scholarships and grants for current students, even upperclassmen. Start by asking your advisor if there are any you might be eligible for. You should also reach out to former and current professors, who may be aware of outside scholarships you’d be a good fit for.
Look for Retail Scholarships
Many big companies, like Target and Macy’s, provide college scholarships to serve the community. Make a list of companies you like and see if they have any programs. Don’t be shy about contacting small companies. A well-worded letter and essay may be enough to convince them to offer you something.
If your parents work for a big company, have them ask their HR rep if there are any scholarships available. You can also ask other relatives or family friends.
If you have job experience, contact your former companies and ask them if they have any similar programs. Spent a summer working at McDonald’s? Look at their corporate website to see if they have scholarships (hint: they do).
Don’t hesitate to call even if you worked for a small business. You never know what they might say. Many are happy to help their former employees.
Part of earning little-known scholarships is about being willing to ask and be direct. The meek may inherit the earth, but they won’t earn the most scholarships.
Apply Early – Really Early
Most students and parents start thinking about scholarships in high school, when the reality of college starts to set in. But many scholarships don’t have a minimum age requirement so you can apply anytime. It’s not unheard of for a middle school student to earn a scholarship for college.
If you have a few years before school, start doing your research now. There may be less competition because fewer people are aware that this is a possibility.
Keep track of which scholarships you apply for. If you don’t win one immediately, see if you can apply in the future. If your scholarship providers promise to pay tuition directly to the school, keep the information handy for when the time comes.
Many students apply for the most popular and well-known scholarships, ones that their high school advisor tells them about.
But the key to winning grants and scholarships is to find the ones that fewer people are applying for. To do that, you have to go niche.
Make a list of all your hobbies, interests and extracurricular activities and research scholarships designed for those. If you’re a theater buff, find theater-based scholarships. If you love Latin class, find scholarships through the National Junior Classical League.
The reason this strategy works is because you already have a strong advantage when applying for a scholarship you care about. Your essay is likely to be better because you’re passionate about the topic.
Some scholarships are especially designed for students with unique skill sets. For example, students who create a prom dress out of duct tape can win a $10,000 scholarship from the Duck brand company. That is the perfect thing to apply for if you have a proclivity for fashion design.
Other Tips for Applying for Grants and Scholarships
Once you’ve found the grants and scholarships, it’s time to sit down and apply. Here are some important things to keep in mind when filling out those endless applications:
Give Yourself Time
Applying to a scholarship takes time, and the people who read them can tell the difference between someone who spent time and a student who rushed through.
Give yourself plenty of time to fill out the applications. If you’re struggling to find the time, then pick a few that you feel the most qualified for. It’s better to submit a few applications that you tried really hard on than a dozen that got little attention.
Even if it’s tempting to recycle an essay, try to customize it for a specific scholarship. Teachers can tell when you’ve put in an effort to stand out.
When I was in high school, I automatically took myself out of the running for so many scholarships. I just assumed that I didn’t have the right grades or SAT scores to qualify. So I just didn’t apply.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how much money I might’ve left on the table. Unless the scholarship has clear guidelines and requirements, it never hurts to apply. You don’t know what a committee is looking for and you never know if you have the right mix of grades and extracurriculars.
Ask for Help
Many teachers and guidance counselors are happy to help with scholarship applications, especially if you need help with an essay or other portion.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your mentors and educators. They may have good insight as to what the scholarship provider is looking for and how to highlight your achievements. You can also ask your coaches and other adults you trust for feedback. You never know who will give you the best piece of advice.