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10 Tips To Help You Win A Private Scholarship

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By far, the most lucrative source of scholarship funding for college is the colleges themselves. Having said that, however, there are thousands of scholarships available from organizations outside of the colleges that may be worth pursuing.

We generally call these funds “private scholarships” or “outside scholarships,” and they can certainly make a sizable dent in your college costs. In order to cash in on the wealth of outside scholarship funding that is out there, follow these 10 tips:

    1. Use the web.

      I start here because most students do. There are some great scholarship searches on websites like www.scholarships.com, www.bigfuture.org, and www.petersons.com. Understand, however, that any scholarship you find online is going to be found by, likely, thousands of other students. Competition will be stiff. Therefore…
    2. Be specific.

      Don’t waste lots of time and energy on scholarships that you are unlikely to win. If a scholarship just requires you to be a “good student,” what are the chances that you are going to be the best student in that extensive applicant pool? If a scholarship requires you to be a vegetarian, woman engineer, or receiving treatment for acne (yup, all these scholarships exist!), the applicant pool is going to be narrowed down greatly for you. Think about what makes you unique, and see if there’s a scholarship for it.
    3. Check with your high school.

      While you may be competing with thousands of students across the country for that big national scholarship you find online, you’ll have much less competition for scholarships restricted just to your community. Ask your high school guidance counselor about how to apply for scholarships from the school, local supermarket, Elks Lodge or VFW chapter.
    4. Employ employers.

      If you work, ask your employer and ask your parents to see if their employers offer any scholarship funding for dependents of employees. Many large companies do.

    5. Start early.

      While most scholarships deadlines pop up during senior year of high school, there are some scholarships with earlier deadlines that you don’t want to miss out on, so start your search as early as freshman year. Even if you can’t apply for a scholarship until senior year, knowing a scholarship’s requirements (which could include writing an essay, designing a science project, doing community service, etc.) in advance will help get you on the right track to ensure that you are a perfect candidate for the scholarship by the time application season rolls around.
    6. Get organized.

      Since you’re starting early on this scholarship search (right?), you don’t want to lose track of deadlines and requirements along the way. Start a spreadsheet, listing potential scholarships to pursue, along with websites, deadlines, requirements, etc., to keep you on point.
    7. Know the mission.

      Organizations award funding, to at least some extent, in order to influence applicants’ (and winners’) behavior, so make sure your application speaks to the organization’s mission. Don’t tell the American Institute of CPAs how your versatile accounting degree can help in your medical career – tell them how it’s going to advance your career as a CPA! Your application should let the awarding organization know that this funding will allow you to do exactly what they want you to do.
    8. Beware of scams.

      You should never have to pay to apply for or receive a scholarship. An organization asking for your bank account or credit card number is a big red flag warning of a scholarship scam. Also be aware that scholarship applications that require no more work than entering your name and email address are simply marketing tools and your chances of winning the advertised scholarship are akin to your chances of winning the lottery.
    9. Understand effect on aid.

      If you qualify for need-based financial aid, know that any outside scholarship winnings will need to be incorporated into a college’s need-based aid package. Before you spend that extra money in your mind, understand if any college-based aid will need to be cut back to “make room” for the private scholarship.
    10. Don’t stop.

      Many students search for scholarships during senior year of high school and never again. Make sure you continue your scholarship search throughout your college years, as some scholarships are specifically reserved for students who have already proven themselves in a particular major or, in the case of funding from professional associations, students who have set themselves on a particular career path. Don’t give up on new scholarships once you enroll in college, as that will likely result in money left on the table. And leaving money on the table is the last thing we want to do when it comes to scholarships.

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Shannon Vasconcelos is Director of College Finance at College Coach, the nation’s leading provider of education advising, where she delivers workshops and provides individual counseling on the college finance process. Before joining College Coach, Ms. Vasconcelos worked in financial aid at Boston University and Tufts University. She has a BA in Economics from the University of Massachusetts and an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University.