How to Get a College Scholarship

The cost of college tuition has increased 1,120% (no, that’s not a typo) in the past 30 years.[1] With the cost of college continuing to skyrocket, many students will no longer be able to pay for school out of pocket. While many students use financial aid to offset the cost of school, this can lead to a lifetime of debt. College scholarships, on the other hand, are a great way to pay for college without taking on any debt. With planning, research, and careful preparation, you may be able to get scholarships to pay for part, or all, of your education.


EditFinding Scholarships

  1. Search online for scholarships. Begin by searching for scholarships that are specifically for your grade in school. For instance, there are many scholarships designed for high school seniors. The best place to begin in the US is the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search, here, which searches over 7,000 scholarship opportunities by category and other keywords.
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    • If you are currently enrolled in college, there should be some resources through your school’s website that will help you find scholarships. You should also search for scholarships within your institution that are designed for continuing students.
    • There are scholarship-specific search engines that you can use to find potential scholarships. Some of these include Fastweb, and College Board.
    • You can find a list of state grant agencies here.
  2. Ask your counselor or teacher about scholarships. Career counselors or college counselors know a lot about the types of scholarships that are available. They may be able to direct you to scholarship options you haven’t yet considered.[2]
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    • If you’re from a disadvantaged background, you may also be eligible to participate in TRIO, a US government program designed to help low-income families, first-generation college students, and people with disabilities get into college. TRIO offers guidance counseling and scholarship opportunities.[3]
  3. Think about your background. Many scholarships give money to students with particular ethnic or racial backgrounds. There are even a variety of scholarships for students in military families or for students with parents in volunteer or fraternal societies. There are also a lot of scholarships designed for students who are returning to school late in life or beginning at a non-traditional age. Think about your background and search for unique scholarships that you are eligible for.[4]
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    • Check the Federal Student Aid website, here, for information on scholarships for students from military families.
    • If you’re a current or former foster care child, you may be eligible to participate in the Educational and Training Vouchers program through the federal government. Find more information here.
    • Consider also checking websites from your church or religious organization, community organizations, and local businesses. Many offer scholarships for local students.
  4. Keep track of deadlines. Deadlines for scholarship applications are firm. This means that you can’t send in your application late and expect you will get the scholarship. Keep track of deadlines by using a spreadsheet or your personal calendar. Then you won’t miss an important deadline.[5]
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    • Make a note of whether the scholarship deadline is when your paperwork needs to be received or if it is a postmarked deadline. If the deadline is when your paperwork needs to be received, you should send in your application at least a week before it is due. This will assure that it’s received on time.
  5. Avoid scams. While there are thousands of legitimate scholarship opportunities out there, there are also plenty of people who would be willing to take your money or steal your personal information. Use the following tips to keep your search smart:[6]
    • Don’t pay for scholarship information. Most of the time, the information that financial aid “services” provide is already available for free elsewhere. Furthermore, these services may promise to “guarantee” financial aid or lock in a scholarship if you just give them a credit card number. This is a scam.[7]
    • Be careful of application fees. In most cases, “scholarships” that require an application or processing fee are fraudulent. Reputable scholarships are there to help you out, not milk your money.[8]
    • Don’t pay someone else to file a FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is used in the US to help the government determine your eligibility for aid. It’s free to file and is very easy. Save your money and don’t hire someone else to pay to file it for you. These companies are never associated with the US government.
    • Be wary of “winning” contests. You may receive notification that you’ve “won” a contest or been “selected” for a scholarship that you never applied for. If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Usually, you will have to pay money in order to claim this “scholarship,” which kind of defeats the point.[9]

EditPreparing Your Application

  1. Gather important documents. Many scholarship applications will ask for academic records, financial information, and other details about you.[10] Try to gather these materials well in advance, as documents such as transcripts and test scores can take a few weeks to arrive.
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    • In general, plan to have these documents on hand when applying for scholarships: transcripts from every high school and college you’ve attended, test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.), financial aid forms, financial information (tax returns, etc.), and proof of eligibility (birth certificate, passport, etc.).
  2. Type up a resume outlining your extracurricular activities. Make a list of every activity that you’ve participated in during high school and college. This will include school activities, community and volunteer activities, and work experience.
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    • Type up your resume on the computer. Many universities and colleges now use online applications, so you will probably need an electronic copy of your resume.
    • Be specific with details on this resume. Include the name of the organization that you worked with, the dates that you worked or volunteered there, the position you held, and the tasks that you completed.
    • Include scholarships and honors that you’ve received. If you have any special skills, such bilingualism or computer coding knowledge, list those too.
    • If you have a lot of activities or experience, consider making a long version and a short (one-page) version of this resume. Different scholarship organizations may have different preferences.
    • Check out this sample applicant resume from the University of Texas Honors Program.
  3. Fill out a practice copy of the application form. You want to make sure your information fits on the application form, so fill out a copy before you fill out the official version. If the application form is not online, make a photocopy of the form.
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  4. Type your information into the form. Typing your information into the form is best, as it will be more legible than handwriting. Many scholarship forms are available online in PDFs, so typing your information into these forms is simple. Some forms may be available only in hard copy.
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    • Handwriting the form is fine if you don’t have access to a typewriter. Be sure to write in blue or black ink and write neatly. If your handwriting is messy, ask someone else to fill out the form for you.

EditWriting a Scholarship Essay

  1. Determine the audience for your essay. Each scholarship organization has particular goals. This can influence how it wants to spend its scholarship money. Do a little research on the organization so that you understand who is giving out the money. [11]
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    • A good place to start is by looking at the mission statement of the college, university, or institution. Every higher education institution should have a mission statement and it should lay out the priorities of the school. Most philanthropic organizations will have mission statements too. Be sure to address its mission statement directly in your essay.
  2. Follow the instructions. If the essay directions ask for answers to particular questions, make sure you answer them. If the essay instructions call for 500 words, don’t write 700. If it asks for double-spaced paragraphs, make sure to format your paper like this.
    Get a College Scholarship Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • Double check the instructions after you’ve finished writing. This will help make sure you’ve covered what you need to cover in the essay.
  3. Write something original. College scholarship essays are sometimes boring because writers often use cookie-cutter answers to the assigned topics. Make sure your essay has passion and personal voice. This will help your essay stand out to the scholarship committee.[12]
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    • For example, tell a story to start out your essay. If you are writing about an influential person in your life, start out by telling the story of when you first met this person. If you are writing about an influential book, talk about the first time you read it. Describe how you couldn’t put the book down, or how you stumbled through it, looking up every second word.[13]
    • Keep things personal. The scholarship committee is interested in getting to know you, not “modern society” or “humanity.”
  4. Use specific examples. Avoid vague statements that don’t say much. Go for vivid imagery to paint a picture for your reader. Incorporate specific examples of your volunteer work, detailing how you helped a certain person, for example. Use descriptive phrases that paint a picture of your contribution.[14]
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    • For example, instead of writing, “I helped a homeless single mother by gathering donated school supplies for her children,” you could write, “Sharon, a single mother of two, teared up when I presented her with a backpack full of notebooks and pencils for her children.”
    • Avoid fluff language that doesn’t say anything. “I’m a people person” or “I’m devoted to learning” are not specific or personal. They communicate nothing about you.
    • Consider how much more descriptive these are: “Since I can remember, I have never met a stranger. Whether it’s at my job bagging groceries or serving as class president, I can easily strike up a conversation with anyone.” or “Finishing high school with a chronic illness wasn’t easy, but I took distance learning courses and studied on my own because I value learning and am devoted to pursuing it.”
  5. Ask someone else to edit your essay. Once you’ve finished your essay, ask someone else to read it and give you feedback. Getting someone else’s eyes on your work will help you figure out whether your points are clear, what you need to improve, and what works well.[15]
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EditGetting Letters of Recommendation

  1. Find people who know your work. Most scholarship applications will ask for at least one letter of recommendation. The letter can come from a teacher, employer, or other person familiar with your work. The letter should focus on your work, grades, community service, talents, and so on. [16]
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    • Don’t choose a relative for this role. Friends usually won’t work either. However, a volunteer coordinator, your pastor, or another figure in your community who knows you could work.
  2. Ask the person if he or she will write a letter on your behalf. Don’t assume that your teacher or other referee will write you a letter. You must ask to make sure that he or she is familiar with your work and has the time to write a letter for you.
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    • Meet in person to ask about a letter. This is a more personalized approach than an email and it will reflect positively on you. Bring a copy of your resume or the work you did in his or her class to help this person remember your accomplishments. This is especially important if you have not worked with this person in a while.
    • If the person says no, try not to take it personally. It’s better to have someone who can write you a good letter than someone who writes a vague, impersonal letter.
  3. Give your application materials to your referee well in advance. You want to make the letter-writing process as easy as possible for your referees. Give them any forms they need to fill out as early as possible. Provide them with a copy of your personal statement or essay as well, if the application calls for one. This will help them draft a letter that supports the statements you made in your application.
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    • Be sure to give your referees a self-addressed stamped envelope. Many scholarships ask that your referees mail their letters to the organization rather than giving them to you. It’s impolite to expect your referees to pay to send their letters.
  4. Send a reminder. As you get closer to the application deadline, send a reminder to your referee about writing a letter. Don’t remind them every day, but a reminder at least a week ahead of the deadline is a good idea.
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  5. Send a thank you note afterwards. Regardless of whether you win the scholarship or not, send a handwritten thank you note to each of your referees. They deserve thanks for the time they took to write on your behalf and thanking them for that time will make it more likely that they will do it for you again.
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EditFinalizing Your Application

  1. Proofread your application. Go through each page of your application and carefully proofread it. If it’s an online application, it helps to print out the entire application and read through it. Ask someone else to read through it too.[17]
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  2. Assemble your application in order. Put all the pages of your application in the order that the scholarship application asks for them. For example, place the cover page first, then your scholarship essay, then your resume, and so on. Each application will have its own specific instructions, so be sure to follow them closely.
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    • Make sure you have all the parts to your application. Missing one part might make you ineligible for the scholarship.
  3. Make copies of your application. It’s a good idea to have a record of the information that you send in for your application. Some scholarship organizations might need an interview. It will be helpful to remember what you’ve already turned in as you talk to the organization.[18]
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  4. Send in your application early. Don’t wait until the deadline to turn in your materials. If you assemble all your materials ahead of time, you will have time to proofread your application. Don’t forget to send a reminder to those writing your letters of recommendation.
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  • Take some time to clean up your online presence. Search for your name online and see what comes up. Take down pictures that you don’t want scholarship organizations to see.


  • Don’t pay a service to search for scholarships for you. This is a waste of your money and the legitimate services are usually free.

EditRelated wikiHows

EditSources and Citations

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