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No Time for Modesty: Scholarships & Award Season

Personally, the arrival of Hollywood Awards Season always reminds me that many families are immersed in applying to colleges, choosing the best college fit, and, most importantly, figuring out how to pay for it.

Specifically, the Academy Awards in late winter serve as a reminder that many high school seniors are applying for last-minute private scholarship awards in their second semester.

  1. The timing of the Oscars tends to align with families scrambling to find other methods of college funding as the tuition bill becomes VERY REAL.
  2. For students, scholarship applications provide an avenue through which they can be recognized and appreciated for their accomplishments or “body of work” with various associations, organizations, corporations, and the colleges and universities themselves.

This is the time for students to not be afraid to brag about their accomplishments!  Our children need to celebrate their own accomplishments and learn how to advocate for themselves for the first time.

On a side note, Oscars viewership has plummeted in recent years; I like to think that more and more families have found better ways to spend their time, like seeking out money for college!



Figuring Out How to Start the Scholarship Search

The prevailing trend is for seniors in high school to apply for scholarships in a sort of “combined assault” with their college application process, and/or as an afterthought in their 2nd semester when they have more free time.

Many college experts, however, will advise that students start applying or at least planning for the scholarship process by junior year at the latest when the student is not overburdened with the college application process or dealing with second-semester senioritis/burnout.

While it is true that most scholarship money is not available until senior year of high school, and most families have other priorities until then, it is crucial at least to form a plan of attack before senior year.

The vast majority of families do not know that you can start applying for scholarships as early as kindergarten. Yes, there are much fewer scholarships available for kids who are not juniors or seniors, BUT paradoxically there may be less competition.

Ok. This is all well and true, but what if you are a senior in high school right now?

Make Your Scholarship Plan and Portfolio

While it’s true that some big scholarship deadlines have already passed for the upcoming school year, do not despair. There are scholarship deadlines all year round.

As with most accomplishments in life, you need first to form a plan. This goes for everyone intending to go to college, not just high school seniors. Make a list of steps you’ve taken to reach your goals throughout your life. Some tips for you:

  • Create a portfolio of “how awesome you are”: Be sure to include challenging classes you’ve taken, extracurricular activities, jobs, volunteer efforts, books you’ve read, compilations of art or written work that you are proud of, videos of your athletics, organizations and professional groups that you are a part of, and major or job interests. If you are able to do this before senior year, it will save you a ton of time in the application process because you can keep referring to this master sheet.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation from people that have gotten to know you over the years. Good recommendations can be game-changers with regard to college and scholarship applications. Furthermore, an insightful teacher can often clearly highlight or reveal talents and strengths of before you even realize them. When asking for letters of recommendation, be sure to include your resume so that the person writing the letter is reminded of your strengths. Be mindful of the time and effort it takes to write a letter of recommendation, so please be sure to also THANK them for writing a letter on your behalf.   A good old-fashioned “Thank You” note will go a long way.
    • Bonus tip: If you are not a senior yet, I cannot stress the importance of cultivating good relationships with your teachers and coaches. It will change your life for the better.
  • There are no rules that state you can’t recycle your essays!
    • Depending on the essay prompt, you may be able to reuse all or some of your personal statement/supplement essays.
    • They still need to be tailored to each specific prompt and adjusted accordingly
  • Apply to as many suitable scholarships as you can without compromising the quality of your work.
    • Remember any successful scholarship search should include ALL scholarships that you may qualify for, even if the award is small!
  • Plan to apply for scholarships THROUGHOUT college. So many students throw in the towel after senior year.
    • As we say in the college funding business, you make a plan to pay THROUGH college, not TO college.

Where to Find Scholarships

Once your plan is made, begin your search. The easiest way to start is to use online resources.

Below you can find our preferred scholarship databases. The beauty of these scholarship finders is that you can search for opportunities by categories, such as your interests, major, or state:

You can find more private scholarship sites on our resources page.

Note: We advise using a new email address because these sites will flood your inbox.

You should not stop here, however. Not all scholarships are posted online! Here are several more places to look:

  • Google local scholarships that align with your child’s strengths/interests
  • Utilize counselors and teachers who know which scholarships might be a good fit
  • Check with employers and other local businesses
  • Contact your town’s chamber of commerce
  • Reach out to religious organizations, service organizations, and professional organizations

Local/smaller scholarships have much better odds and do add up!

Which Scholarships Suit You Best?

Do not use the shotgun approach. This is where you blast out an application, often hastily written, to every scholarship that you find. Unfortunately, this approach will most likely result in a pile of rejections.​ To win a scholarship, you need to be selective in the application process. Spend time on the ones most suited for your child.

If you apply for the big ones, understand the odds. When most people think of outside scholarships, they think of the national, highly competitive scholarships sponsored by large companies. These programs have a lot of traction and A LOT of applicants. You are more likely to find success targeting smaller and/or local scholarships.

Your child does not have to be a good student. Don’t think your student will qualify for that scholarship money? Think you won’t get anything because your child is not one of the “best” students? Think again. There are so many unique scholarships out there that do not have high GPA or test score restrictions. ​

There are scholarships for almost anything you can think of. There are the more traditional ones—career aspirations, writing, athletics, academics, art, learning disabilities, community service, ethnicity, religion​—and many more unique ones as well—think video games, candy, and drone piloting.

What are your kid’s hobbies? What are they really interested in? What are they good at?​


Scholarship Sweepstakes – No Essay Required

If you feel lucky, there’s free money available based on random drawings, but do not spend too much time on these. They have terrible odds and many of these contests are scams.

The ones that are legitimate are doing this for marketing reasons. The companies who are giving out money want your contact info, so use a junk email address or unsubscribe from the marketing emails if you prefer.

Most scholarship engines and student loan companies offer a monthly drawing in exchange for your contact info. For example, Scholarship Owl offers a monthly chance at $1000 for those who sign up.

At the end of the day, don’t spend too much time on these. You’re just playing the lottery.

Final Thoughts on How to Be a Strong Candidate

On writing your essays
  • Follow the prompt & stay within the word limit – the easiest way to be disqualified is not to follow the rules.
  • Read over and over for proper grammar, spelling, and organization. Get a second pair of eyes to confirm everything is correct.
  • Your child needs to write in their own voice. This is a demonstration of their work, interests, and contributions.
    • It’s extremely challenging for some kids to write about themselves, especially if they are particularly shy or modest.
      • It’s extremely challenging for some kids to write about themselves, especially if they are particularly shy or modest. To be one’s own advocate, to demonstrate confidence, to hold to your convictions— these are vital skills to develop for college and beyond.
  • You want to stand out while still staying within the confines of the prompt. It can be challenging. How do you think outside the box when you are told to stay in the box? Here are a few ideas:
    • Focus on what makes you stand out and make your essays revolve around that.
    • Hook your reader immediately. The first couple of sentences has a huge impact on how the rest of the essay is perceived.
    • Everyone loves a good story.
    • Try and connect with your audience on a personal level.
For the interview process (if there is one at all)
  • You need to PREPARE, PRACTICE, and RELAX.
    • Prepare by learning about the scholarship sponsor and its mission.
    • Practice by reviewing potential questions and answers. Have a friend, parent, or mentor practice the interview with you.
    • Then you can finally, RELAX. The more comfortable and conversational you are, the more likely the interviewer or panel will connect with you.

Your time and effort will be rewarded with other people’s money paying for your higher education!

Good luck in your search, and to quote the most influential movie of all time (in my humble opinion), “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!”

The cost of higher education is a daunting proposition. The College Funding Coach is here to help you figure out how to pay for it!

Learn How to Pay for College

Questions? Join our Private Parent Facebook Group.


Theresa White






Related Reading:

When Should You Apply For Scholarships?

How to Research Scholarships

Related Webinar:

OPM (Other People’s Money): A Discussion on Scholarships with Jocelyn Paonita


The Scholarship System

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