By Belinda M. Gonzalez-Leon, Ed.D.
Many high school seniors find themselves taking the SAT or ACT multiple times during their senior year of high school in order to be admitted to their college of choice. However, my recommendation has always been to take the test as many times as needed during your junior year of high school. During the last year of high school, seniors will be busy applying to college between the months of August and January. If you add studying and taking tests on top of that and regular school work, where will you find the time to apply to scholarships?
Researching and applying to scholarships takes up a lot of time. But if you are in financial need for college, you need to take advantage of free money. Complete your testing junior year if possible, research and prepare for scholarships over the summer, and once senior year opens- concentrate on sending the applications in for both scholarships and schools.
To ease the scholarship search, you need to strategize. First, use specific search engines to find the scholarships. One of the most highly recommended websites is FastWeb (https://www.fastweb.com/). By filling out a questionnaire about yourself, FastWeb will search scholarships for you and send you a list. As new scholarships that you may qualify for become available, you’ll be emailed the list.
Another very popular scholarship search tool is an app that was featured on Shark Tank. The Scholly (https://myscholly.com/) app allows you to easily find scholarships based on a few questions but you can also track deadlines and your progress on the application from your phone. Another very reputable website you can use is the College Board (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search). It is important that you use a trustworthy scholarship search tool because many scholarships are actually marketing ploys.
For example, a certain site will ask you a long list of questions with no essay. The questions will then lead them to determine what products you might be interested in buying and next thing you know you are being bombarded with e-mail advertisements. Others will tell you that part of your scholarship application requirements is to post certain information or statements a particular number of times on different social media sites. Is there money awarded? Yes. But it is typically a small amount based on a lottery system and not on your financial need or academic ability.
After you have compiled a list of scholarships that you believe you qualify for, put a calendar together of the deadlines each scholarship has. Then you can plan backwards on when to start the application for submittal. The earlier the better! Remember, many scholarship applications require not only an essay but recommendation letters and official school transcripts. You may be able to write the essay in no time, but you need to rely on others to get letters and documents – give others plenty of time to prepare so that you are not late with your application.
How many scholarships do you apply to? That all depends. It depends on how great is your financial need; how good are your grades; what type of scholarship is it; how much time do you really have; and what is the amount of the scholarship. Typically, I will help students apply to anything that is over $1000. We try to use the same essay or recommendation letters as much as possible! Some students only apply to the very large scholarships that can cover a whole year of tuition or all four years of college. My recommendation is that you apply to as many as you can, but it really is up to you how much you want or need that free money.
Another very important resource is the college that you are applying to. Speak to the financial aid advisor at the college of your interest and ask about what scholarships they offer. Many times scholarships are available to incoming students based on their high school performance, college application, or financial need. These scholarships may be awarded without you having to specifically apply to them! It’s all based on your admissions application. More importantly, once admitted, the college may have scholarships available based on your academic performance or financial need during each semester of study.
The key to success with scholarship applications is to start early, plan carefully, and then tackle them on a regular basis. It’s hard and time consuming, but a couple of thousand dollars awarded to you for free is always a help to defray the high cost of college. For more scholarship information, you can find almost daily scholarships featured on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PremierEducationalConsulting/.