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Tips and Tricks for Getting Scholarships

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by Harrison Greanias, Berkeley, CA

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The next few months have a lot of scholarship application deadlines. Look at Proyecto Visión's scholarship list and see which ones you may qualify for.

Applying for scholarships is time-consuming and boring, but it’s definitely worth it! I first began applying for scholarships during the second semester of my senior year of high school and it was a grueling and arduous task, filling out what seemed like an endless number of forms, clicking thousands of buttons to submit my personal information, and typing essays about a never-ending list of seemingly superficial topics.

Luckily, after a few applications I started to notice a pattern: every scholarship application was practically the same. Now a few words changed here and there and the layout of the application form might be a bit different, but they were basically asking for identical information. When I realized this, I got more organized, so that instead of starting from scratch each time I applied for a scholarship, I could go into each application knowing that I already had most of the information ready to be copied-and-pasted into the application form.

By the time I had filled out a few more scholarship applications, I was a real scholarship-application machine! By the end of the summer after I graduated high school, I had applied to more than 40 scholarships. Here I will present you with some tips and tricks about applying to scholarships that I learned from my experience.

Apply to College

The first step of applying to scholarships is to apply to college. Obviously, you can’t get a scholarship (and won’t need a scholarship) if you don’t go to college. Apply to as many schools as you can, because you never know which college might accept you. I applied to 15 colleges. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this also turned out to be a crucial part of preparing for scholarship applications.

First off, each school has its own financial aid package that they’ll offer (after you’ve also submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)).  Even though each school will have the same financial and academic information about you that you provided in your college and financial aid applications, they’ll evaluate that information differently. For example, one school might not have a lot of money for offering grants and scholarships, so they might tell you that they won’t give you much financial aid, but another school might really like you and offer you a generous financial aid package.

Secondly, many of the colleges you apply to will require you to write essays. You might think (or hope) that you’ll never see these essays again, but don’t delete your college essay files! These essays are not only great practice for writing scholarship essays, but you’ll actually be able to re-use many of them. Your college application essays will soon become the most important part for your scholarship application assembly line.

Finding Scholarships

We’ll get back to writing essays in a minute, but before you have to write an essay, you’ve got to find the scholarships you want to apply for. This can actually be the hardest part of applying a scholarship! Many websites list scholarships and provide links to their application forms, including Proyecto Visión. Once you’ve found a couple of scholarships that you think you might qualify for, apply for them.

Mass Producing Scholarship Applications

By the time you’ve done a few scholarship applications, you’ll have a real idea of what different scholarships require you to provide. The basic thing to remember is that most every application requires the same information. This includes things like your name, high school GPA, the college you are planning to attend, letters of recommendation, and, of course, the essays. For your letters of recommendation, you can use copies of the same letters that you used for your college applications.

The most time-consuming part of most scholarship applications is the essay. But here’s where the assembly-line strategy really pays off: you’re not going to write a whole new essay each time you apply for a scholarship. When you apply for those first few scholarships, go back and look over all the essays you’ve written for your college applications. If you applied for as many colleges as I did, you’re almost sure to have written an essay that will match with the essay topic your scholarship application requires. If not, you might have to write new essays, but even then, you may be able to adapt portions of your college application essays for them.

That’s because most scholarships require you to write on one of only a few common topics: about a meaningful life experience, about a role model, or about why you are a good match for the scholarship organization’s goals. If you’re really lucky, they’ll just ask you to write an essay on a topic of your choice, whereupon you can just copy and paste the best essay you’ve written in the past. These similarities in essay topics mean that you can re-use your essays from previous applications. Just make sure to always read over your old essays again, because there might be a mistake that you didn’t notice before or they might have information that isn’t relevant.

You’ll also begin to notice that scholarships can be categorized pretty clearly; you’ve got your academic scholarships, athletic scholarships, disability scholarships, scholarships based on ethnicity, interests, etc. I found my niche in academic and blind-related scholarships. Within that niche I was almost always able to find an essay I had written before that I could use. Usually I had to make some modifications, but they often didn’t require major changes. If the scholarship requests an essay that isn’t similar to something you’ve already written, move on to another scholarship that better matches your essays.

Once you’ve looked over the essays you’ve written in the past, you’re ready to go wild applying for scholarships! Your scholarship application assembly line can begin mass production and if all goes well, you’ll get a lot of money that will pay for your college expenses.  Each time you see a scholarship, look at the application form, make sure you have already written an essay that is a pretty good match for it, and apply!  As you apply to more and more scholarships, keep all of the modified versions of any essays you have used – they may come in handy again.

The Reward

The key is to apply for as many scholarships as possible – the more you apply for, the more scholarships you’ll end up getting. Before you know it, you can apply for dozens of scholarships. In my case, I actually made more money for college by applying for scholarships than many of my friends did with their summer jobs.

However, don’t just expect to apply and start getting checks in the mail. If you win a scholarship, the people organizing the scholarship probably won’t just send you a check. They will most likely request additional information and may want to send your college the check directly for your tuition and housing expenses. That’s fine. After all, this is free money! The least you can do is to send them the information they want and keep them happy!

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