Applying to Scholarships

How To Apply for Scholarships: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Brittany Mailhot March 27, 2018

With the cost of university rising higher each year, it might feel like the price of further education is getting out of control. In fact, between 1988 and 2017, the cost of attending a public university increased by 213% and the cost of a private one by 129%. Even after taking inflation into account, attending college is much more expensive than in the past. Nowadays, students can expect to pay around $9,970 per year for a public university and $34,740 per year for a private university.

Luckily, there are a number of options available to help students pay for college and some of them even help you do it without breaking the bank. In this post, we’ll be focusing specifically on one of those: scholarships.

Scholarships are our preferred option when it comes to paying for college. Not only is there a scholarship for nearly everything from being left-handed to showcasing your talents on the football field to being top in your class, but scholarships are basically free money (and what could be better than that?)!. When you receive a scholarship, the money is yours to keep and you never have to worry about paying it back.

While the application process can be enough to scare some less-motivated students away, it’s really not so bad if you know what you’re in for (plus, Going Merry can help make the process easier!). Whether you’re applying for the first time as an incoming college freshman or just looking for some extra cash to get you through grad school, here’s our step-by-step guide on how to apply for scholarships:

Step 1: Get Out and Search

how to apply for scholarships

You can’t find what you don’t look for, right? So it should come as no surprise that the first step in this guide on how to apply for scholarships is that you need to go out (or go online) and search for one.

The first thing to do when beginning your search is to decide which types of scholarships you qualify for and which ones are right for you. While a huge range of scholarships exists, they can generally be split into need and merit-based.

Need-based scholarships depend on your or your family’s ability to pay for college and are only awarded to candidates who need a little extra help financially. Merit-based scholarships are awarded to applicants based on their achievements or abilities. They may be focused on academics, art, or athletics and there’s also a big range of situation-based scholarships, such as ones for women, minorities, journalism majors, or gamers. Both need and merit-based scholarships may be offered by your college or by private organizations or individuals.

Once you’ve come up with a general idea about which scholarships you might qualify for, you need to figure out where to look. The first and most logical step is to talk with a high school guidance counselor or the financial aid office at your university. Both will have experience finding scholarships that apply to your circumstances, while the financial aid office will also be able to tell you about university scholarships (you can usually find the most up-to-date information by checking out the financial aid or admissions section on the university website).

For some merit-based scholarships it’s also worth speaking to your teachers, e.g. if you’re looking for scholarships for French majors, chatting with your French teacher would be a logical way to find them. If you have a knack for sports, it’s also a great idea to speak to your high school coach! Universities with top-notch sports teams are usually willing to shell out a fair amount of money to get talented players.

Besides university-sponsored scholarships, there are thousands and thousands of privately-funded scholarships out there and various ways of finding them. Just like we mentioned above, the first search method is to sit down and discuss your options with a high school guidance counselor or a financial aid representative. Alternatively, a simple Google search generally turns up a fair amount of results as well.

However, in our opinion, the best way to find private scholarships is to use an online scholarship website. Going Merry, for example, helps you find and apply for scholarships all from one place. Simply create a profile and fill out your information. Based on the data you provide, Going Merry automatically matches you with scholarships you qualify for. We save you the time of reading through various, boring scholarship descriptions and puzzling over which apply to you and which don’t. And we don’t stop there: we then allow you to apply directly to each scholarship, auto-populating your information as you do.

Step 2: Create a Calendar

how to apply for scholarships

When it comes to how to apply for scholarships, timing is key. It’s a good idea to begin applying as soon as possible…those deadlines really sneak up on you! From the start, make a list (whether in an Excel sheet or the vintage way with pen and paper), with the scholarships you’d like to apply for, their due dates, and their required documents and essays (Going Merry also has an estimate of the application time for each one).

Make sure to start your application well in advance so that you’re not rushing to gather documents and materials.

Step 3: Figure Out the Requirements

Not all scholarships are created equal and it’s important to research the specific requirements for the scholarship you’re applying to. Luckily, scholarships are generally straightforward so everything you need will be listed out right in the description.

Here are the most common documents and materials needed for a scholarship application:

Scholarship Application Form 

It might be obvious, but a scholarship application without the application isn’t much of a scholarship application at all. Make sure to fill out the application portion thoroughly and double check for errors.

Essay 

The essay portion of the application is your chance to shine. Even if you’re not a strong writer, it gives you the opportunity to express your personality, ideas, and opinions. You only have a certain amount of space and scholarship sponsors want to see how you’ll use it. Check down below for tips on how to turn your essay from a headache into your strong point.

how to apply for scholarships

Letters of Recommendation 

Most scholarships require Letters of Recommendation from personal or professional references. When requesting a LOR from professors, teachers, guidance counselors, or personal sources, make sure to give the person recommending you at least four weeks notice. The last thing you want is a rushed recommendation or a stressed out recommender. For many students, asking for recommendations is the most stressful part when it comes to how to apply for scholarships.

Copies of Transcripts and Diplomas 

Even if a scholarship isn’t merit-based, it may require a copy of your high school, or most recent college, transcripts and your high school diploma. You can easily get transcript copies through your high school or university website or through the Guidance or Registrar’s Office. Occasionally, scholarship applications will also require your test scores from the SAT or ACT. Prepare yourself by keeping these test-taking tips in mind

Financial Aid Information 

Some scholarships, especially if they’re need-based, might require you to submit your FAFSA form or sometimes even your parents’ tax and income information along with your application.

Resume/CV 

An up-to-date and modern resume can make a big difference when it comes to applying for scholarships. Along with your essay, you should view your resume as one of the central pieces of your applicationwhere you can highlight your skills and accomplishments. If you’re looking to take your resume writing skills to the next level, try out these tips.

Portfolio

Sending a portfolio can significantly strengthen an application, especially for art and design-related majors. If you don’t have a portfolio and feel that you might need one, don’t sweat it. It’s not that difficult to get started if you take it step by step.

Step 4: Rock the Essay

how to apply for scholarships

As we mentioned above, the essay can make or break the application, so it’s important to give it the time and effort that it deserves. Even if you’re lacking confidence when it comes to your writing skills, following a few simple tips can help take your essay to the next level.

Essay Tip #1: Read the Instructions

So many amazingly written essays get tossed aside simply because the applicant didn’t take the time to read the directions and respond properly to the prompt. If you take anything at all from this guide on how to apply for scholarships, do yourself a favor and make sure you understand what you need to do before you pick up the pen.

Essay Tip #2: Give Yourself Time

When you give yourself sufficient time to write the essay, you’ll be less stressed, have more time to think through your ideas, and have more time for proofreading. Rushed essays are more likely to be filled with grammar and spelling errors and usually end up being pretty boring. Plan your time out beforehand.

Essay Tip #3: Find Your Own Path

When you apply to a scholarship, you’re responding to the same writing prompt as hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of other applicants. How can you make your essay stand out from the rest? What can you bring to it that nobody else can? Set some time aside simply to think over your strengths and to brainstorm ways to make your essay stand out.

Essay Tip #4: Create an Outline

An outline can help ensure that your essay is fluid and follows a logical sequence of events. Outlines don’t always need to be detailed, even just a basic one can help you organize your ideas!

Essay Tip #5: Liven It Up

Nobody wants to read a boring, lifeless essay…much less scholarship committees, who are reading hundreds of applications! Don’t be afraid to put your personality into your writing and to let your passion show through. Big, fancy words aren’t necessary either and often do more harm than good.

Essay Tip #6: Proofread, Edit, Repeat

Taking five extra minutes to proofread your essay can make a world of difference. We’re all human and, whether we like it or not, we all make mistakes. Having the correct spelling and grammar will make your essay appear more professional.

Step 5: Submit Your Materials

how to apply for scholarships

Now that you’ve gathered all of your documents and materials, the next step on how to apply for scholarships is simply to turn them in! Some scholarships should be submitted by mail while others are submitted online, so be sure to check the requirements. If you requested any Letters of Recommendation, be sure that the person providing you with the recommendation is aware of the deadline. Also, provide them with either the email address or a stamped envelope with the correct destination address on it.

Step 6: Wait!

The last and final step in our guide on how to apply for scholarships is simply to wait and, realistically, there’s not much else you can do. Most scholarships will let you know when you can expect to hear back by. Some only contact the recipients.

After submitting your application, take a deep breath and relax. Keep a positive attitude and hope that your hard work paid off!

The scholarship application process can be overwhelming, but it's not all bad! Check out our step-by-step guide on scholarships to learning all about scholarship essay tips, scholarships for college, and more!

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