Paying for College

13 Best Tips for Winning College Scholarships

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Save time and improve your odds of success.

Would you rather spend hours applying for scholarships or years paying off student loan debt? Us, too. Here are our best tips for finding scholarships and creating the most successful submissions.

1. Apply for local scholarships

Many communities offer local scholarships through clubs, organizations, small businesses, and benefactors. The odds of winning these scholarships are greater because they’re open to a smaller group of students. Here’s how to find local scholarships:

  • Check with your teachers and guidance counselor
  • Search local media websites, like television and radio stations
  • Check community portals
  • Use geographical Internet searches, like “scholarships in Texas”
  • Ask people who graduated
  • Use a personalized scholarship search tool like our Scholarship Match or the Scholarship Search tool in the premium version of the MONEY College Planner

2. Apply for scholarships with smaller awards

Many students look for scholarships that offer the biggest bucks—but those are also the most competitive. Scholarships with smaller awards usually have fewer applicants, so your chances of winning may be higher. These scholarships can help with college costs like books, supplies, and living expenses. Paying off those smaller expenses can quickly add up to big savings.

3. More work = fewer applicants = better chances

Many students avoid scholarships that require a lot of work, such as essays, videos, and projects. As a result, the applicant pool is much smaller, which means greater chances for you. Scholarships with essays over 1,000 words often have fewer than 500 applicants, compared to the 5,000 students who enter easier scholarships.

4. Get personal

Instead of burning yourself out applying for every scholarship you qualify for, have some fun! Apply for scholarships that fit your interests and that you’ll enjoy. There are scholarships for everyone under the sun: zombie lovers, vegetarians, Magic: The Gathering players … the list goes on and on. The more personal the scholarship, the more likely your passion will show through, resulting in a better submission.

Related: 99 Colleges That Give Everyone a Scholarship

5. Don’t introduce yourself in your essay

It’s cliché and may even get you disqualified. Many scholarship committees conduct blind readings, and essays that include names or other identifiers are immediately discarded. Get to the point as quickly as possible.

6. Don’t repeat the essay prompt

No one wants to reread the same sentence hundreds of times a day. Be original! Use the beginning of your essay to showcase your personality and set yourself apart from the crowd. Try starting your essay by setting the scene for a story or jumping directly into your answer.

7. Don’t use quotes

Your essay should be about you. The best essays are unique and stand out from the competition, so be original and use your own words.

8. Satisfy all the requirements

You can write the best essay in the world, but if the prompt asks for a list of five things, and you only list four, you may be disqualified. Make sure you answer every question and accurately meet every requirement.

Related: How to Write a Better College Essay (video)

9. Stick to the word limit

Get as close to the word limit as you can, but don’t go over. Exceeding the word limit may disqualify you.

10. Proofread

Spelling and grammar mistakes may get you disqualified. Make sure to proofread your essay at least twice and ask your parents and friends to look it over, too. The more eyes, the better.

11. Submit early

Don’t wait until the due date, just in case there’s a problem with the site, the Internet connection, or your computer.

12. Apply for as many scholarships as you can

The tip we hear the most from scholarship winners is to apply for as many scholarships as you can. Treat it like a part-time job and set aside several hours every month to look for and apply for scholarships. You should continue applying for scholarships for as long as you’re in school.

Related: The 25 Best Private Colleges for Merit Aid

13. Don’t give up!

If you don’t win, don’t take it personally, and DON’T GIVE UP! Like most things in life, the most successful scholarship winners are the ones who keep trying. Find scholarships that you’re passionate about and keep applying. Good luck!

Scholarship expert Unigo is a content partner of the MONEY College Planner.

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