Scholarships are a great way to help pay for college, and unlike loans 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 graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with no debt because he won so many scholarships and worked during the summers.
Kantrowitz, now publisher of the college admissions and financial aid website Cappex.com, offers these tips for applying for college funds.
Tip No. 1: Don’t 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 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 of the organizations you plan on applying to. “Tailor your application to this purpose, so you are arguing in your answers why you best match their goals,” says 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, 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,” says Kantrowitz. Word counts can be one of these mechanisms.