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How to Get a Scholarship for College - 8 Tips to Help You Out


Scholarships stand out as one of the most sought-after avenues to lessen the cost of a college education. However, the misconception that applying for scholarships randomly will land you financial aid is a myth worth dispelling. 


Many students fall into the trap of indiscriminately applying to as many scholarships as possible, assuming it increases their chances. The reality, however, is quite different. Haphazard applications often result in generic essays and lackluster submissions, diminishing the likelihood of standing out amidst the sea of applicants.


Scholarships often have specific criteria they’re looking for in applicants — random searches can lead you to scholarships you’re ineligible for, or leave out options that are a great fit for your profile.


Why seek out scholarships?

When it comes to paying for your college education, it can feel overwhelming to figure out how you’ll cover the cost. The average cost of tuition at private colleges has reached $42,162 — adding in room, board, and expenses, this is a financial burden few families can bear.


Thankfully, many colleges have taken steps to make financing education more accessible. An increasing number of schools have committed to no-loan financial aid meeting 100% of demonstrated need, which has made higher education more affordable to students who would otherwise be unable to attend.


However, this doesn’t mean it's always easy to cover the cost of attendance. Not all colleges award comprehensive grants for demonstrated need — sometimes alternative avenues may be provided to pay for your education. Options, including subsidized Federal student loans or work-study jobs, will mean you won’t need to pay the full cost up-front but still require you to ultimately cover the cost. Other schools simply do not offer full financial support, requiring you to take out loans or seek out other opportunities on your own. 


And, even no-loan financial aid may not be sufficient. For example, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) — which is used to calculate your demonstrated need — doesn’t take extenuating circumstances into account. If your family is unwilling to support your education costs or needs to allocate money towards other expenses, this won’t increase the amount of aid you’re given. Even if you and/or your family can afford the cost of attendance after aid, it is often still the maximum amount you’d be able to contribute, meaning that additional funding can be immensely helpful. Finally, other costs such as textbooks, computers, and transportation to and from campus can add thousands more to what you’ll need to pay.


In these instances, having catch-free scholarships can be a dream come true. Though they can be incredibly competitive to obtain, there is a staggering amount of scholarships available every year, about 1,581,000 scholarships are available to college students, that can range from a few thousand dollars to a full-ride to your dream school


Feeling interested in taking this approach to paying for college? In this blog, we’ll provide you with 8 pivotal tips on finding the best scholarships and successfully applying to earn this support for your attendance!


1. Utilize scholarship directories 

Comprehensive directories can be a great first step if the process of searching for options feels overwhelming. Scholarship directories compile all available scholarships in searchable lists, saving you time and allowing you to easily compare options. 


One of the best resources for exploring available scholarships is found on the College Board’s site BigFuture, which provides a comprehensive list of 24,000 scholarships to browse — this resource is most helpful if you have a specific scholarship or search term in mind, as you can only sort by alphabetical order or use the search bar.


Other directories like Scholarships.com and Fastweb streamline the search process. After you select your scholarship criteria, these directories will filter results to only include those matching your search.


These platforms can save time through the convenience of researching from a single site, increasing your chances of finding scholarships that align closely with your goals. Additionally, they provide valuable information regarding deadlines, application requirements, and contact details, empowering you to plan and strategize your applications effectively.


2. Utilize scholarship-matching tools 

Still don’t know where to start? Are you struggling to determine your ideal criteria? If you’re feeling unsure about what you’re looking for in a scholarship, scholarship matching tools can help guide your efforts. 


Another great offering from The College Board is their scholarship matching assessment. You’ll answer a series of questions about aspects of your background, including academic and/or professional interests, club or organization affiliations, life experiences, and nationality. Based on your answers, the Scholarship Match tool auto-generates a list of scholarships options that match your profile. This is an invaluable resource for sorting through the massive array of available opportunities. Since scholarships have wide-ranging eligibility criteria, this tool will streamline your search by filtering out those for which you’re ineligible. 


Note that you’ll need a College Board account to utilize this feature. This will allow you to return to your search results and save scholarships of interest to your account, which adds another level of convenience to the tool.  


Although your scholarship match answers will be saved to your College Board profile, none of this information will be sent to colleges or organizations offering scholarships. However, it may be accessible to College Board-associated scholarships. 


3. Check out options for automatic qualification 

Most common at public universities, some schools automatically award merit- or need-based scholarships for students who meet certain criteria. Typically, students will need to meet standardized testing scores, GPA, and/or class rank thresholds determined by the school. Although the vast majority of guaranteed scholarships are open to both in-state and out of state applicants, there may be some variation — in-state residents may receive larger scholarships and/or have lower academic qualification thresholds. 


If you’re already interested in one of these schools or are looking to expand your list, this is an incredible opportunity to earn substantial funding without doing any additional work!


4. Seek out scholarships for underrepresented students 

A growing resource in the scholarship landscape is those providing funding for students underrepresented in higher education. Supporting Students of Color, LGBT students, students with disabilities, these scholarship opportunities seek to increase diversity at colleges and universities, and mitigate institutional barriers that contribute to underrepresentation. 


To increase the likelihood of earning one of these scholarships, search for options with additional applicability. Some are targeted towards underrepresented students in a specific field, such as the Google Hispanic College Fund Scholarship for students majoring in computer science or computer engineering and the Black American Engineering Scholarship Award.

 

If your background and/or identity makes you eligible, applying to relevant scholarships can be a great avenue to pursue. 


5. Diversify your applications

Don't limit yourself to big-name scholarships, as this can significantly weaken your chances of winning. Only 0.3-1.5% of students receive a full-ride scholarship for college. On top of that, only .2% of scholarship winners receive amounts at or above $25,000. As you might guess, those offering substantial financial awards are fiercely competitive, nearly matching the selectivity of top colleges themselves! 


With a massive pool of highly qualified students applying, even the most talented applicants will have a difficult time earning one of these awards. So, if you’re only seeking out the most prestigious scholarships available, applying to a long list of them won’t have much effect on your chances of earning one.  These staggering statistics underscore the importance of a strategic approach when seeking financial aid.


Even with the wide array of scholarships available, 97% of scholarship recipients receive $2,500 or less. While this funding might feel minimal and not worth the application, remember that small financial awards can add up, leading you to a large amount of collective funding. If you’re interested in pursuing this approach, try exploring local organizations and businesses hoping to support students in their community. To add a few extra options to your list, you can also check out the large number of essay-free scholarships, where you can submit an application with minimal extra work.


6. Explore unusual scholarships

Most students think that scholarships are only based on academic credentials or personal identities — though this is the most common, a surprisingly large number of quirky scholarships exist. 


If you have some niche interests you might be in luck! Scholarships are out there for students passionate about topics such as puppetry, vegetarianism, marble-playing, and Star Trek. Or, if you’re sick of writing essays about things like extracurriculars or leadership skills, other scholarships request far more unique applications, such as designing a prom dress out of tape, creating a greeting card, and planning a zombie apocalypse survival strategy. 


Beyond the fun aspect of these applications, these offerings often have far fewer applicants, improving your odds!


7. Request stellar recommendation letters

Many scholarships require letters of recommendation, rather than just essays and information from applicants. Identify teachers, mentors, or employers who can provide compelling recommendation letters, and reach out to them early to give them adequate time to write a strong letter. Ideally, you should choose recommenders with whom you’ve had a long-term relationship, or those who you worked with most recently. 


Keep in mind that it’s okay to give recommenders suggestions on what you’d like them to mention. Remember, if they’ve agreed to recommend you, they’re hoping to see you win, and will appreciate any strategies you provide them. On a more practical note, the more ideas you give them, the easier writing the letter will be! 


Guide your recommenders on how to highlight your most relevant strengths, character, and achievements. Ensure they align with the scholarship's criteria, as they’re not necessarily just seeking big accomplishments or strong academic performance. Finally, if you need more than one letter, provide different suggestions to each recommender, as you don’t want the letters to seem repetitive. Bring up relevant anecdotes about your work together, achievements they’ve witnessed, or ways in which they’ve seen you grow and develop. 


8. Build a strong and compelling profile

It’s key to not only demonstrate your interest in your planned major or field of study, but also skill and background. In short, you aren’t just accomplished in the classroom, but in practical applications of your field of study. One of the most effective ways to build accomplishments is through research experience — you’ll show independent motivation to meaningfully contribute to your field, and that your work has tangible results that can be valuable to the school. 


Research mentorship programs are a great avenue for this approach — you can work one-on-one with a University professor or graduate student, typically culminating in a project that can be submitted to publications and/or academic competitions. 


If you’re interested in pursuing Computer Science or Engineering in college, Veritas AI is a strong choice. This research program allows you to pursue an independent project of your choice in the fields of AI and/or Machine Learning. Alumni have gone on to attend schools such as Princeton, UPenn, Stanford, Cambridge, and UC Berkeley. 


If you're seeking an opportunity tailored to students across diverse academic domains, explore the Lumiere Research Scholars Program, guided by esteemed researchers from Harvard and Oxford. This exclusive initiative offers personalized guidance from top-tier PhD researchers. While many programs narrow their focus to specific fields, Lumiere Research provides mentorship spanning STEM, social sciences, and the humanities.


A final noteworthy option to consider in your internship quest is the Ladder Internship program. This selective initiative caters to high school students, offering the chance to collaborate with start-ups. Ladder Startups operate across diverse domains including technology, machine learning, AI, finance, environmental science, sustainability, business, marketing, healthcare, medicine, media, journalism, and more. Through this experience, you can exhibit both academic prowess and meaningful contributions to a burgeoning industry.


A great advantage of these research programs is that you’ll be advised by researchers from elite universities, so you’ll receive great mentorship, and potentially even earn a letter of recommendation to boost your college application.


Bonus tip: Network and seek guidance from counselors and alumni

Engaging with your school's guidance counselors and alumni network can be a goldmine for scholarship opportunities. These professionals possess extensive knowledge about scholarships, often having insider information on what makes a successful application or scholarship offerings you may not know about.

Counselors are equipped to guide you through the application process, offering valuable insights and tips on crafting compelling essays, presenting yourself effectively, and meeting application requirements. 


Moreover, alumni networks often have established scholarships or can provide mentorship opportunities, helping you refine your application strategy and stand out amidst fierce competition. You also might be able to connect with alumni who have benefitted from certain scholarships or are involved in organizations offering financial aid.


Regularly schedule meetings or appointments with your school's counselors, and actively participate in alumni networking events or programs. Establishing these connections can significantly bolster your scholarship search, offering guidance and support that could make a substantial difference in your pursuit of financial aid.


Wrapping Up

In the pursuit of securing scholarships for college, a strategic and deliberate approach is the best way to succeed. It's not just about the numbers; it's about the quality of your applications, the alignment with each scholarship's criteria, and the dedication to showcasing your unique strengths. By adhering to the tips outlined in this guide, you can significantly enhance your chances of securing valuable financial support for your education. Understanding eligibility criteria, securing stellar recommendations, meeting deadlines, diversifying applications, and browsing unexpected avenues all contribute to a well-rounded approach.


Remember, the scholarship journey is not solely about financial assistance; it's about personal growth, perseverance, and learning the art of presenting oneself effectively. Embrace the process, seek guidance from counselors and alumni, utilize scholarship directories, and tap into every available resource. By doing so, you not only increase your chances of securing scholarships but also develop invaluable skills and resilience that will serve you well in applying to colleges themselves and seeking out opportunities during your college years. So, embark on this journey with determination, strategic planning, and a belief in your own potential—your future self will thank you!



One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: Unsplash

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