Scholarships are a great way to help pay for college, and unlike loans they are considered “gift aid” since they don’t need to be repaid. But earning scholarship money takes solid research, careful planning, and hard work, particularly on the essays.
Mark Kantrowitz should know: When he was in college a few decades ago, he won so many scholarships that between money from awards and working during the summers, he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with no debt.
Kantrowitz, now publisher of the college admissions and financial aid website Cappex.com, suggests these tips when applying for college funds.
Tip No. 1: Do not pay to submit scholarship applications
Legitimate organizations give you money rather than collecting it from you. If you’re asked to pay a fee to qualify for a scholarship, it’s probably a scam. “Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about or to apply for scholarships,” says Kantrowitz.
Tip No. 2: Research the scholarship organization before you apply
There’s usually a good reason why an organization is sponsoring a scholarship. Perhaps they’re dedicated to helping students from a particular community or those who have certain family challenges. Read up on each organization to which you apply. “Tailor your application to this purpose, so you are arguing in your answers why you best match their goals,” suggests Kantrowitz.
Tip No. 3: Follow application instructions
Pay close attention to deadlines. If the organization asks you to mail the application, don’t try to email it. And if there is a maximum word count limit, aim to be as close as possible to it, but don’t go over.
“Most scholarship providers receive far more qualified applications than they have funds available, so they sometimes use arbitrary mechanisms to reduce the number of applications they have to review,” notes Kantrowitz. Word counts can be one of these mechanisms.