Cardinal Stritch UniversityCardinal Stritch University

Eight Steps to Get College Scholarships

Applying for scholarships is important for one simple reason: you can receive free money for college. Seriously, there are people out here right now, willing and ready to give you money to go to college. Finding this free money may seem confusing or too difficult. Don’t let that stop you because it’s easier than you think. It is time consuming but, not that hard. Yes, there are some important steps to follow but, it’s not rocket science.

Start by searching for scholarships. There are a lot of possibilities and you can cut that down to a short list of choices. Then you have to complete and submit applications that sometimes include essays, recommendations, and lists of achievements that highlight your best qualities. (Unlike school assignments you can actually use your own work over and over.)

There are no secrets to applying. The best advice is to use common sense and follow directions.

  1. Start Your Research Early

Researching scholarships, requesting information and application materials, and completing applications all take time. You need to be doing this now, this week, and all through January.

Ancilla College’s three favorite search databases are all free:

FastWeb is here-

Big Future from College Board is here-

CollegeNet is another great resource-

  1. Don’t Miss Deadlines

Some scholarships have deadlines you may have already missed. Don’t panic. Some are by the end of the year—just a few days away. Check the deadlines and finish the first applications due first.

  1. Read Eligibility Requirements Carefully

If you have a question about whether you qualify for a certain scholarship, contact the scholarship sponsor. The contact info is usually online. There’s no point in applying for a scholarship you’re not eligible to receive.

  1. Get Organized

Make a separate file for each scholarship and sort the files by application due dates. You should also gather the items you’ll need to apply. Most scholarships ask you to send some (or sometimes all) of the following:

  • Your most recent high school transcripts
  • Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)
  • Financial aid forms, like the FAFSA
  • Your parents’ financial information, including tax returns
  • One or more essays
  • One or more letters of recommendation
  • Proof of eligibility for the scholarship (for example, proof of membership in a certain group)

And if you’re competing for talent-based scholarships, you’ll probably need to audition or submit a portfolio.

  1. Follow Instructions

Stick to the word limit for the essay. If supporting materials are not requested in the application, don’t send anything extra. There is no extra credit on scholarship apps. Use common sense, start early and follow directions.

  1. Check Your Application

Before you send the application in:

Make sure you filled in all the blanks. You can contact scholarship sponsors if you aren’t sure how to fill out part of the application.

Make sure your answers are readable. If you can, fill out the application online and don’t be afraid to use a word processor like Microsoft Word to write your answers first. You can copy-and-paste them into online text boxes later. If you have to physically write out the application, print neatly.

If you’re reusing material (such as a cover letter or an essay) from another scholarship application, make sure you haven’t left in the wrong college or sponsor names from a previous app. This will almost always get your application rejected out of hand, no matter what a fine person you are.

Proofread your application. Run spell check and grammar check on the application. It might help to have someone else read your essay to catch mistakes and give you feedback.

Remember to sign and date your application. You would be surprised how often this is skipped.

  1. Keep Copies of Everything!

Having copies of your scholarship application makes it easy to resend quickly if application materials get lost in the mail. If you’re applying for a scholarship online, save copies of your work on your computer.

  1. Fill out your FAFSA

Ok, this isn’t really about scholarships but it’s still very important. Completing the FAFSA allows you to be considered for the greatest amount of financial aid from federal, state, and college sources — and it’s free to fill out ( It’s available beginning in October this year.

PS: Don’t ever, ever, ever pay money for a “scholarship guide” or any “application fee” to apply for a scholarship. If someone is charging you money to give you money, there’s a problem. Don’t be conned by someone running a website that simply re-lists scholarship sources you can get free from other, legitimate, sources.

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