I graduated college without ever taking out a loan. I owe a lot of that to having a fiance who is a really hard worker and offered to support our family while I went back to school. That took care of most of our bills, though living was tight. (Kudos to all of you who live on a single-income permanently. I have no idea how you get it done, but I have crazy respect for you.) My tuition was covered by grants. (More on that in another post.) But scholarships were the important thing that made up the in between. They made it possible for us to make ends meet and worries easier.
I had applied for scholarships in the past. I followed the typical advice. Go ask your unhelpful financial aid office. They will most likely direct you to websites like FastWeb. I got zero results.
So this time around, I decided to do things differently. There were scholarships out there, and I had to find them if I was going to make school work this time. In my experience, the best way to get a scholarship wasn’t to go to websites like the one mentioned above and become one amongst a sea of applicants. Even if I wrote the most stellar essay ever, there was always going to be someone more deserving than me. I had to shrink the pool. I had to become one out of 100, not one out of 5,000. And you know what? This time I got results. This time money didn’t keep me from earning my degree.
Apply for scholarships sponsored by your school.
This is the first place you should start. Go in to your financial aid office. Ask them specifically for scholarships sponsored by your institution. If they keep pointing you to nationwide websites with weird scholarships hosted by soft drink manufacturers, press them until they get someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about. If there is a school out there that doesn’t have scholarships in place specifically for their students, I haven’t heard of it.
Applying for these scholarships drastically reduces your competition. Now you’re only competing against people from your school who had the initiative to find and apply. If you’re going to a school where a large portion of the population is receiving grants, your odds are even greater as many of them won’t think to look for extra money…their tuition is already covered. Who would think to look for more?
Apply for Spring semester scholarships.
Want to shrink the pool even more? Part way through the fall semester schools (and other organizations) usually post Spring semester scholarships. SO FEW PEOPLE APPLY. They’ve already applied in the Fall and have pretty much figured out how they will be handling their finances for the school year. They don’t even think, or know, to look for extra money in that Spring semester. Because you’re one of the few that looks, that stellar essay of yours is so much more likely to get noticed and awarded the money it deserves.
Find scholarships through organizations specific to your major.
There was a great Honors Society related to my major when I was in school that just happened to offer some pretty amazing scholarships. Some classmates and I found it through google accidentally one day. The only problem? We didn’t have a chapter of the organization at our school. I decided that had to change. I got some people together and we started our own chapter. It was a really great experience. Not only did I apply to and get awarded one of the scholarships for the next school year, but the whole thing looked great on my resume.
Maybe it’s not a fraternity or Honors Society. Maybe it’s a professional organization that you’d like to enter or have entered on a student membership. Maybe it’s a company that operates in the field you’d like to work in. Get involved with professional networking before you graduate. Not just because it’ll make it easier to get your foot in the door later, but because these organizations may just be willing to pay you now via scholarships.
So that’s my #1 tip on finding scholarships: shrink the applicant pool to increase your odds. You also have to write a great essay (which we’ll talk about another day,) but a great essay doesn’t get you very far if it’s buried under thousands of other great essays. Search for money that’s specific to you, whether that be through affiliation with your school or the passion that you’ve turned into a major. The more specific the scholarships, the more likely you will be to win it.