November is National Scholarship Month, and it’s a good time for a refresher on how this form of gift aid can help you pay for school.
Scholarships are a form of merit-based financial aid that can help you cover part, or even all, of the costs for school. There are thousands of scholarships available, ranging from rewards for good grades, to free money based on volunteerism, to niche scholarships for membership in specific clubs or for contributions in specific areas.
For example, the National Grocers Association Foundation offers scholarships to students who plan careers with independent grocers, like the Asparagus Club Scholarship. There are also scholarships based on heritage, gender identity, athletic achievements and much more.
With a little time and research, you may be able to find and apply for scholarships that can help you pay for school, whether you’re going to be a community college student, all the way up to a master’s degree student or higher. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re considering using scholarships to pay for your education.
1. Give Yourself Time to Apply
Applying for scholarships can be a time-intensive process, but doing so can also reward you with up to thousands of dollars to help you pay for school expenses. Each scholarship application will have its own unique requirements, but some common ones are:
- The application itself, which can be several pages long and require detailed information
- A cover letter or essay explaining why you deserve the scholarship
- Letter(s) of recommendation from people like former teachers or employers
- School transcripts
- Examples of projects you’ve done that relate to the scholarship, or proof you’ve participated in the area the scholarship focuses on, like a certificate
You’ll have to meet the scholarship deadline in order to be eligible, so there’s a lot to keep track of. As you research scholarships you want to apply for, create a calendar with deadlines to meet.
It may be helpful to schedule time on a calendar in which you’ll work on each scholarship, too. It’s a good idea to plan for at least 2 hours to fill out each scholarship application, including time for essay-writing. If you want to get a cover letter or essay reviewed by someone, like a teacher, or you need letters of recommendation, factor in extra time so you can be sure to make your deadline.
2. Be Mindful of Your Online Presence
Most employers (up to 98%, according to a 2020 study by The Manifest) research candidates online and on social media when they’re considering who to award a job to. Assume the same thing with scholarship awards. Even candidates who turn in a complete and credential-filled application could miss out on a scholarship based on the content that’s online about them.
Some things you can do to audit your online presence include:
- Do an online search of your name and see what appears. If you’re mentioned on a website or in a blog, and the information is incorrect or unflattering, contact the webmaster and ask for the mention to be removed.
- Look at your social media posts and tags. Go through posts you’ve made and posts that have tagged you to make sure you’d be comfortable with the scholarship organization seeing the content. If you’re in a lot of content, it may be easier to turn your profiles to private, so that you limit who can see your content. Remove yourself from tags that feature content you don’t want to show up in.
- Consider your comments. The comments you make online may also be searchable. You may want to remove comments on social media and websites that could be polarizing or that relate to controversial topics like politics.
For online content you control and that’s public, put yourself in the best light. Upload a professional-looking headshot to your LinkedIn profile. Update your information so it’s consistent with what you feature on scholarship applications.
3. Check Out Scholarships Offered by Your School
Both the school you’re currently attending, as well as the school you’re planning on attending, may offer scholarships specifically for students like you. Some alumni work with the schools they’ve graduated from to create a scholarship program specifically for current and future students. You may be eligible for those financial awards.
Look at both your current and your future school’s websites to see which scholarships might be available. Compared to national scholarships offered to students around the country, these scholarships may be less competitive, since they’re school-specific.
4. Look for Scholarships Based on Activities You’re Involved In
Whether you play a sport, you’re a theatre actor or you’re a member of an organization like the Girl Scouts, there are probably scholarships available for students with your interests. Think about what you’ve been a member of or participated in thus far. An online search can bring up scholarship opportunities, including scholarships for students with particular majors.
There are also websites like Scholarships.com that feature thousands of scholarships available. You can sign up for a profile on the site, search for scholarships based on your interests and get scholarship alerts when relevant ones become available.
Apply for Scholarships to Get Free Money for School
Scholarships can be a great tool that help you keep school costs low as you prepare for your future. You could get free financial aid for tuition, meals, housing, books, a computer and more when you apply.
Make sure to plan for your applications by building time in your schedule. Research scholarships based on your school, your talents, your demographics and your unique interests.
Read the scholarship directions carefully so you ensure you send in all the required materials and make the deadline. Improve your reputation online by being mindful of what you post and what content you make public.