Earning scholarships for higher education can significantly alleviate the financial burden of pursuing a college degree. This financial burden has dramatically increased in recent years, making it near impossible for students to “pay their way through college” as the older generation was able to do. According to data from the NCES, across all types of schools, the cost of college has increased more than 143%, or 2.4 times, between 1963 and 2020. And in that same time period, the cost of room and board also doubled. It increased by 94%, from $6,311 to $12,233, keeping in mind that tuition has more than tripled in that time period. That brings the total average cost of college to a staggering annual $26,000. Students and parents are struggling to find ways to pay for college that does not involve taking on student loan debt, but this number is also on the rise, with the total student loan debt in the US sitting at $1.7 trillion as of 2023.
While the process of paying for college may seem daunting, there are options for students to supplement their costs by a variety of methods. One strategic option that is underutilized is taking advantage of the numerous scholarship opportunities available to students from all backgrounds and walks of life. In this article, we will explore five effective strategies to help you learn how to secure scholarships for your academic journey.
How to win scholarships: 5 Powerful Strategies
Financial aid and savings often can’t cover all of the expenses for a student’s college education. Scholarships can help ease the load for stressed parents and students as they grapple with the ever-rising cost of higher education and set themselves up for bright futures.
- Start Earlier than you think:
One of the key strategies to increase your chances of earning scholarships is to start the process early. Many students wait until their senior year of high school to begin applying for scholarships, but the truth is that the search should commence even before that. By exploring scholarship options during your junior year or earlier, you can identify and prepare for the specific requirements of various scholarships. As Dave the Scholarship Coach also pointed out, starting early also helps build your ‘scholarship muscle’ through early applications and can help prepare you for your bigger senior year push. This early start allows you to build a strong foundation for your applications, increasing your competitiveness in the selection process. For a practical tip on where to get started, consider visiting your school’s guidance counselor or utilizing reputable online scholarship databases to explore a variety of opportunities.
- Think Outside the Box:
While academic achievements are often the primary focus of scholarship applications, thinking outside the box can set you apart from the competition. One huge misconception for students is that they think they have to have a 4.0 grade and a perfect SAT score to win scholarships. This could not be further from the truth. It is important to explore scholarships offered by organizations related to your hobbies, passions, or community involvement. Whether you excel in sports, arts, community service, or unique talents, there are scholarships available that cater to diverse skill sets. By showcasing your individuality and highlighting your non-academic strengths, you increase your chances of standing out to scholarship committees. Additionally, you could reach out to local community centers, hobbyist groups, or your school’s extracurricular coordinators, as they may have valuable insights into niche scholarship opportunities that align with your interests. There are scholarships for almost anything you can think of including the best duct tape prom dress, a beef advocacy scholarship, and the American Fence Association scholarship for students who have family involved in the fencing industry. Think outside of the box when you are trying to win scholarships, rather than only sticking with the academic ones.
- Research, Research, Research:
Thorough research is crucial when it comes to finding suitable scholarships. There are numerous resources available, including online databases, scholarship websites, and college financial aid offices. Take the time to understand the eligibility criteria, application requirements, and deadlines for each scholarship. Creating a spreadsheet to organize your findings can be a helpful way to stay on top of application details. Make sure to tailor your applications to the specific requirements of each scholarship. This demonstrates your genuine interest and commitment, enhancing your chances of success.
- Don’t Quit after High School Graduation:
The pursuit of scholarships doesn’t end with high school graduation. Many students mistakenly believe that opportunities for financial aid diminish once they enter college. However, numerous scholarships are available for undergraduate and graduate students alike. Stay informed about scholarships offered by your college or university, as well as external organizations that support students throughout their academic journey. Continuing to seek out and apply for scholarships during your college years can help ease the financial strain of tuition and other educational expenses. Dave even mentioned that there are some scholarships that will retroactively pay for your tuition! There is strong evidence that from an hourly return perspective, time spent applying for scholarships can be significantly more profitable than working a part-time job. According to Nerdwallet, an estimated $2.9 billion in available grant and scholarship money goes unclaimed each year, and students can easily apply for more than $5,000 in scholarships in a full workday. Doing some math, you could potentially make $625/hour by filling out scholarship applications. Since the pool of people actively applying is small, it is a great way to earn money in college rather than flipping burgers.
- Avoid the Scams:
Unfortunately, the quest for scholarships can attract scams and fraudulent schemes. Be cautious of organizations that request payment for scholarship information or guarantee success in exchange for a fee. Legitimate scholarships do not require payment for application forms or information. Stick to reputable sources and verify the legitimacy of the scholarship providers. Your school’s financial aid office and trusted scholarship websites are reliable places to find genuine opportunities.
Earning scholarships for higher education requires a proactive and strategic approach. By starting early, thinking creatively, conducting thorough research, continuing the search beyond high school, and avoiding scams, you can maximize your chances of securing financial assistance for your academic journey. Remember, each scholarship application is an opportunity to showcase your unique qualities and achievements, so invest time and effort into crafting compelling submissions. With determination and the right approach, you can turn your scholarship aspirations into reality.