Playing the Odds on Scholarship Opportunities

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play the odds

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.

14 thoughts on “Playing the Odds on Scholarship Opportunities

  1. brian503

    Great tips. I have 14 years twins who will be going to college in a few years. I’m beginning to collect as much information as I can. I will add these to my list.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Average Joe from Stacking Benjamins would be a great person to talk to! He just sent his twins off to post-secondary, himself.

  2. avgjoemoney

    Fantastic advice. People stop looking for scholarships after they’re denied as an incoming freshman….but there is tons of money available to juniors and seniors who know what they want to do with their lives (rather than freshman who often have a ton of important decisions to still work through).

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Great point! Going back as a non-traditional student really opened up my eyes to that aspect. When I was a freshman out of high school, I thought my financial fate at my school was carved in stone. How wrong I was.

  3. Mel

    I remember when I was in high school, the local American Legion had an oratorical competition where you had to give a 7-10 minute speech about your favorite amendment and there were scholarships for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place that would recur each year you were in school. I was a HORRIBLE public speaker, but I was set on getting scholarships so I gave it a try. Three of us showed up. I was still a horrible public speaker, but someone else was worse and I got $1,500 a year each year I was in college – essentially for just showing up.

    So I think it also helps to narrow the applicant pool a little by looking for scholarships with slightly “weird” things you have to do to get them. Lots of people won’t bother. A friend of mine had to make a video for one (back in 2001 when it was a little more involved than just flipping open your laptop and hitting record – although not much) and she wound up being one of only like 10 applicants. she got the scholarship, too.

    I’m so happy I don’t have to worry about school anymore. :oP

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      That’s so great! That’s the way the scholarships sponsored by my fiance’s school are set up: umbrella style. Good for you for not giving up!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      An athlete AND a true-blue scholar! What a perfect situation! I know both of those things require a lot of hard work; I’m so glad the school recognized and rewarded those talents that she worked so hard for.

  4. Savvy Working Gal

    I am on the scholarship committee for my local professional organization and will give you an insider tip – we get very few applications. So apply. Your competition may not be as strong as you think. Seek out the small organizations in your major. We give out 1,000 and also submit your application to our national scholarship committee. We have had our applicants win on the National level too. Answer all the questions on the application. We look at that. Even if you are not actively involved in outside activities write something down. We had an applicant write I work full-time, am a mom, and go to school that is all I can manage right now. We appreciated her efforts. A well thought out essay also helps. Not a canned I want to be a CFO someday….

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      That’s all such great advice, and from the horse’s mouth! Thank you! Particularly about the outside activities option—I’m so glad you guys recognized her efforts. Because that is a lot. I’ll have to remind the fiance to never leave his blank since he’s in the same situation right now (except, obvs, he’s a dad.)

  5. The Frugal Exerciser

    If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have taken out a loan for my masters degree. I would have worked to pay for school. My parents paid for my undergraduate degree so I feel lucky they paid for that.

  6. Pingback: How to Write A Successful Scholarship Essay | Femme Frugality

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