Three award winners and two grant experts offer advice for improving the chances of nabbing more tuition help.
Ben Kaplan, Harvard graduate, author of How to Go to College Almost for Free, and founder of Scholaroo.com
Winner of $90,000 worth of private scholarships
His advice: Make the scholarship process part of the college application process, since college admission essays can be reused for scholarship applications. It is a learning opportunity. You are learning how to present and promote yourself. That’s worthwhile.
Check out the websites and counselors of the high schools near you for scholarships that aren’t nationally publicized, and so are likely to have less competition. I did that, and ended up winning several scholarships that no one else at my high school knew about.
I don’t usually recommend entering sweepstakes scholarships with random drawings. Those are all about acquiring your name for marketing purposes.
Grant Means, sophomore, Stanford University
2012 Coca-Cola Scholar
His advice: Don’t waste your energy applying for scholarships that aren’t good fits. Make sure the scholarship you are applying for aligns with your passion in a deep way. Once you have a short list, go after those programs with everything you’ve got.
Almost all scholarship applications have word or character limits, which means you have to justify every phrase. Be picky and maximize the impact of what you say. Give them something they won’t see 1,000 times. Be creative. Be different.
You should build two résumés. On one put down and describe everything that could possibly be important. The other should be a one-pager with the accomplishments you are most proud of. You can use these as building blocks for the applications.
Brian Liang, freshman, University of Connecticut’s combined BS/MD program
Winner of two private scholarships totaling $1,100
His advice: I applied to about five private scholarships, some national, and some local. I spent one-and-a-half to two hours on each application. I got two locally based scholarships.
I picked the ones I knew I had a good chance of getting. It also pays to give your résumé to your high school counselors. They usually have some scholarships that they know about and vote on. I have friends who got scholarships that way.
Most high school students do some community service, and there are a lot of community-based scholarships. So volunteering does pay off in the end.
Diana Adamson, executive director, ScholarMatch, a website that crowdsources scholarship funds for students in the San Francisco Bay Area
Her advice: Donors want to see students who have overcome some sort of obstacle, are committed to their education, and want to give back. They tend to support those who can tell their stories and maintain a positive attitude.
The best thing sophomores or juniors can do is to get an appointment with their high school counselor. They need to look at their transcript and arrange their classes so that they can meet the requirements for the most generous colleges and scholarship programs. The goal is to have options.
Seniors should fill out the FAFSA, since schools and scholarship programs use it to determine financial need.
Oscar Sweeten-Lopez, team leader, Dell Scholars Program, which provides low-income, at-risk students $20,000 apiece, plus other support, toward their college education
His advice: Twelve thousand students start applications, 8,000 finish, and we can select only 300 to win. The main problems we see are a lack of effort on the essay questions and waiting until the last minute.
You have to take the time and effort to really read the questions and answer them fully. If you come across as open and honest, you will do better.
One of the questions we ask is about goals. That is a fairly common question by colleges and other scholarship programs. So you should have a response prepared that you can customize for each application. But make sure you don’t just copy and paste.