With the cost of college at an all-time high, students who can land a scholarship are at a distinct financial advantage. The stress of having years of loans and debt repayment can take away from the excitement of your higher education. Scholarships, unlike loans, are gifts. There is no need to repay them, so they are essentially free money.

Many students don’t realize the abundance of scholarships available to them. Contrary to popular belief, scholarships are not only for the highest achievers. In fact, there is something for everyone. Several organizations award scholarships yearly, including small and large businesses, government, trade associations, religious groups, non-profits, and clubs all over the US.

In this guide, we will break down the steps you need to guide you in preparing to apply for scholarships so that you, too, can have a piece of the scholarship pie.

Step One—Establish a Process

The first thing you need to do to get ready for applying for scholarships is to establish a robust process. A winning strategy requires organization, so it’s a good idea to get everything prepared at the start. Keep all of the information necessary for each scholarship in a separate digital or physical folder (or both) so that you don’t waste time looking for lost paperwork.

Make sure you have plenty of notepaper to write down any pertinent information you don’t want to forget and keep your notes within the file you’ve established for each scholarship. Like most projects, you can improve your odds of success by methodical prep work.

Step Two—Prepare for Deadlines

Each scholarship will have its own deadline. Some of them can be fairly tight, so you want to start as early as you can. Some awards coincide with admission deadlines at each university, so making sure your application and paperwork are submitted on time is crucial to your chances of winning the gift. Keep in mind that many scholarships are offered annually. If for some reason, you don’t make the deadline in time, you may still have a chance during your next year of college.

Don’t forget that computer and human error frequently happens. Making sure you get your application submitted in plenty of time will remove as many of these potential mishaps as possible. It will also give you a chance to resubmit if your paperwork gets lost in transition somehow.

Step Three—Know What the Scholarship Committee Wants

A lot of documentation goes into filling out college scholarships, and many can be quite competitive. Knowing what the scholarship committee is looking for when they determine which candidates they will choose can help you better prepare. Not all scholarships are based on merit, but for the ones that are, your academic performance will matter.

In other cases, grades play a part, but a student’s involvement in extracurricular activities may be more of a deciding factor. In most cases, committees like to see well-rounded candidates who have shown dedication, community service, or leadership skills in some exemplary way.

You will want to carefully look over the documents and information regarding each scholarship you are applying for to determine the most critical factors each committee will be looking for in a candidate.

Step Four—Organize Your Scholarship Information

This is perhaps the most time-consuming part of preparing for college scholarships. You will want all of your accomplishments, grades, test scores, and activities documented to use during the application process.

Every scholarship will have its own application, but many organizations will want to see additional documents. These extra records help the scholarship committee determine if you are a solid fit. Depending upon the scholarship for which you are applying, you might be asked to furnish the following:

SAT or ACT Scores

Almost all awards based on merit will want your standardized test scores, so be sure you have copies to include with each application.


In most cases, a committee will need to see your high school transcripts that include each course you took and all the credits and grades you received. These must always have an official signature and stamp from your school. The same is true if you are currently enrolled in college.

Personal Statement

Many scholarship applicants will be required to provide a personal written statement. The subjects may vary, but in essence, the personal statement is a lot like an essay. You may be asked to talk about your future goals or given some other prompt. Like your essay, use this opportunity to make yourself stand out and show your unique personality.

Work Resume

Many committees want to see a resume turned in with your application. If you don’t yet have any relevant work experience, no worries. The committee is more interested in seeing how you can organize your achievements and shed light on your skills. This is the ideal place to list your hobbies, skills, and volunteer work.


For art scholarships, you will definitely want to provide a portfolio of your work. This may include tapes of your music, websites featuring your artwork, or videos of a dance performance. Make sure you provide this as it can make all the difference in receiving a scholarship related to the arts.

Financial Info

If you are applying for a financial aid scholarship, you will need all of the vital documentation that is required for the FAFSA application.

Medical Records

For some scholarships, you may be asked to furnish a medical report signed by your doctor. Make sure you keep extra copies of this on hand in case other applications require it as well.

Letters of Recommendation

Many scholarships require you to include at least one letter of recommendation. Like your college application, the letter should come from someone that knows you like a counselor or teacher. They should be able to talk about some things about you that will let the scholarship committee see you in a positive light. 

Step Five—Apply, Apply, Apply!

The point of applying for scholarships is to generate funds to help pay for your education. Although the task can be tedious and daunting, the more scholarships you apply for, the more chances you have to win. There is no per-student limit, so you should go after as many as possible. Focusing on quantity will put you at an advantage over other applicants who get burned out after the first few applications.

By being prepared and following the steps above, you should be well on your way to obtaining some scholarships to help take the financial burden off attending school. Good luck!


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