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How To Be Smarter About Online Scholarship Searches

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Online scholarship search and matching sites abound on the Internet, but signing up for each and every one of them is a huge mistake that can lead to student frustration and angst.

Why?

Because there are thousands upon thousands of scholarship opportunities available to students, but unfortunately a great majority of them are drawings or contests designed to gather personal information and use it to promote student loans and sell student data. Once students have signed up and agreed to have scholarships emailed to them, their inboxes will be inundated with offers, and wading through them to find legitimate or traditional scholarships can take precious time away from genuine scholarship work.

So, what does a student searching for scholarships need to do in order to find quality awards using online scholarship matching websites?

First, they need to ignore the thought that signing-up at as many sites as possible will give them the best possible chance of winning more scholarships. This simply isn’t true.

What will happen is having to deal with an inbox flooded with scholarship contests and offers relating to college admissions and the college experience. Wading through these offers and trying to determine which ones are true scholarships is time-consuming and frustrating. The students who tell their parents they have spent hours “applying” for scholarships could easily have wasted their time doing surveys and filling out useless forms.

Instead, students need to pick two or three scholarship matching sites to sign-up for, such as Fastweb or Scholarships360, and create a new email dedicated to their scholarship search and college correspondence.

This email should include their first and last name (and possibly a number if their own name is unavailable) and that’s it. No cute nicknames, funny references, or questionable words are necessary or needed. In fact, students need to realize that their email address is often the first thing that is seen when they are communicating with college admission reps or scholarship judges. A clean email address is an important part of the scholarship and college process and should be taken very seriously.

Once students have created a dedicated scholarship email address and signed-up for a few scholarship matching sites, they need to make sure they have completely filled out their profiles on each site.

This includes information such as intended college major, (Not sure? Check ALL the boxes of majors that interest you.) hobbies, club affiliations, parent employer connections, GPA, standardized test scores, current level in school and state of residence. Then they need to get used to checking their email and using the delete button daily. Why? Many companies pay dearly for the privilege of having their “scholarship” opportunities delivered to students and these data-gathering emails are sent every single day.

To determine if an award offer is a traditional scholarship, students need to answer these quick questions:

  • Does the link click through to a reputable company or organization?
  • Is there an essay component to the application?
  • Are there guidelines and qualifications for which students are eligible to apply?
  • Do the requirements include extra materials, such as school transcripts and/or letters of recommendation?

Students should be able to answer YES to these questions. If the answer is NO, the scholarship is most likely a contest or drawing. They can then decide if spending a few minutes “applying” for these awards is worth their time and then move on to quality awards that require an essay or other documents.

(On a side note: My own son won a $1000 scholarship from an online site that promotes surveys and other point-gathering tasks to be entered into scholarship drawings. He did not spend hours to acquire points, but rather only a few minutes a day.)

On each scholarship matching site that students have signed-up for, there will be a list of awards that have been determined to be a good fit for students. Once again, students need to wade through the contests and find the traditional awards. Most scholarship contests and paid placements will be at the top of the list each day, so savvy students will get used to scrolling by to uncover scholarships that answer YES to the questions above. Also, watch for the words “sponsored” or “promoted” near the titles of scholarship drawings and contests.

Once an award has been determined to be a traditional award, students can then add it to their scholarship list (if they meet the qualifications) and apply well before the published deadline. Parents can help in the scholarship process by being the ones to narrow down the awards, creating the list, and sending reminders to students about what is needed to apply.

Scholarship searching can be an extremely frustrating process for students and their parents, but learning how to stay out of the slippery hole filled with scholarship contests and drawings can have a massive impact on the cost of college.

Funds acquired from scholarships can be the determining factor in a college education for families struggling to avoid a huge amount of student debt. The money is out there, so don’t make the mistake that so many students make and end up wasting precious time “applying” for scholarships that only a tiny percent of students will actually win.

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Monica Matthews is the author of "How to Win College Scholarships." She helped her son win over $100,000 in scholarships and shares her expertise with other parents and their students. She truly has “been there, done that" in regards to helping families navigate the scholarship process. Ms. Matthews' step-by-step scholarship guide has taught desperate parents to help their own students win thousands of scholarship dollars. Find her scholarship blog and winning tips at how2winscholarships.com.