Seniors, listen up!

Finding the money to pay for college is not an easy task. It takes time and effort, and it can seem overwhelming. There are lots of deadlines, essays, applications, etc. Applying for scholarships isn’t fun, but scholarships are important, especially if they can minimize the need for student loans. The key is to take this stuff seriously. Very seriously.

Over the past few years, in working with many high school seniors, I’ve picked up on many tips and strategies to help you reduce your stress level while maximizing your productivity. Let’s dive right in.

Time is never found, it is made.

You’re busy. I get that. However, students who are successful in finding scholarships are the ones who actively block time in their schedules for this stuff. Some students utilize study hall time or the “College Clubs” at their high school. Other students create a “scholarship work schedule” for themselves for after school (one hour on Tuesday and Thursday) where they set the alarms on their phones and focus entirely on scholarships for that one hour. No distractions.

Create a “must-apply” list.

There is no one-stop-shop for all the scholarships that are relevant to you; you will need to spend time and energy searching for each one. Talk with the admissions representatives from the colleges that interest you. Meet with your school counselor to discuss local scholarships. Use online resources such as ScholarshipQuest. As you learn about more scholarships, start creating a list of “must-apply-for awards” – the ones that you will for sure submit.

Organize yourself and your materials.

Since this is a time-sensitive process with deadlines, it is helpful to get organized. Know your top-priority (must-apply scholarships) and their deadlines. Spreadsheets, marker boards, giant calendars, sticky notes… whatever system helps you visualize which scholarships you should be targeting during a given time of the year. As you save and store files of essays and other requirements, be sure to back up your files. Also, be detailed in how you label your files (such as ScholarshipName_Draft#_Date).

Identify common requirements: Essays, Resume, Recommendations.

The more you dive into the scholarship process, the more similar information they will ask from you.

  • Essay prompts that are similar in nature may be requested by different scholarships. Therefore, you can take content you’ve already written for one scholarship and tailor it specifically to the next scholarship.
  • Each essay should make the reader feel like they just personally met you and learned something about you. A written story with detail and meaning will outperform a laundry list of activities. Get feedback from someone with strong writing skills. Make the next draft better.
  • Resumes are a brief overview of your experiences, involvement, and awards/honors. Once created, it can be used for different scholarship applications. Take time to format and spell things correctly. Visit Activities Resume to create and continually update your resume.
  • Letters of Recommendation are from your teachers, mentors, coaches, and employers (not your friends or family members). It is good to have a list of at least three adults you can turn to for recommendation letters, with at least one strong academic and one strong professional/work ethic recommender.
  • Give each recommender plenty of time to write your letter, and provide a copy of your resume and a short written personal statement that highlights your goals.

Find a scholarship buddy; keep each other accountable.

Chances are your friends are hoping to apply for many scholarships, too. If you can stay on task and hold each other accountable, then there is power in having a scholarship partner or small group. Exchange productivity tips with one another, or new scholarship opportunities you may discover. Brainstorm essay responses and ask for open and honest feedback. Proofread each other’s essay responses to ensure clarity. And of course, use this process as an excuse to spring for some pizza.