Paying for College – Tips on Receiving the Ideal College Scholarship

Dear future college student,

Scholarships are your new best friend.

Paying for college can feel intimidating, but there are amazing financial aid options to help students reduce the cost of their education. As you finalize your college decision and begin to think about your future school’s price tag, explore which of those aid options are right for you.

Of all the ways to tackle your tuition bill, college scholarships are a smart place to start. Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants don’t need to be repaid. And while grants are need-based, scholarships often depend on merit. In fact, many students find scholarships especially appealing because they provide a way to highlight one’s skills while receiving free money for school. Check out the following tips on finding—and winning—your ideal scholarship.

How do I find scholarships that are right for me?

1. Start early.

There are scholarships offered to high school students of all ages, but juniors and seniors will find the most opportunities. The spring of your senior year especially is a prime time to dedicate toward filling out applications. However, any work you complete ahead of time—whether that’s practicing application essays, attaining recommendation letters, or beginning a general search to learn what’s available—will help prevent stress in the long run.

2. Tailor your search.

Your search will be most fruitful if you focus on scholarships that showcase who you are and what sets you apart. Consider the activities in which you participate, the communities with which you identify, the school you plan on attending, or your future area of study. All these can be helpful ways to narrow your options to the scholarships that accurately reflect you, and hopefully, to find which ones provide the greatest chance of receiving the award.

3. Know your resources., Fastweb, and The College Board are just a few sites with massive databases listing undergraduate scholarships of every type. Look for sites that allow you to filter scholarships to match your profile. Both your high school and future college websites are also valuable resources. Find Bethel scholarships listed here.

4. Look local.

There are amazing full-ride scholarships with impressive awards listed online. However, many of these high-visibility programs are offered at the national or even global level, meaning applicant pools for these scholarships are very large. Opportunities offered by local businesses, organizations, and churches, on the other hand, immediately limit your competition to a certain geographic area or community. Don’t discount these scholarships, even if the incentives are smaller. A few hundred dollars might have a greater impact than you’d guess! Bethel, for example, has a partnership scholarship that matches any funds given to students by their church.

How do I write the best essay for my college scholarship applications?

1. Follow the prompt.

Yes, your essay should actually address the question or prompt the application provides. Ensure your essay stays on topic by re-reading the prompt when you finish writing and then reviewing your work, pinpointing where each question is answered in your response.

2. Don’t be afraid to let yourself shine.

While your essay should absolutely be relevant to what the application asks, let your writing show who you are as a person. This is your opportunity to introduce what sets you apart from other candidates. Let yourself brag (just a bit), and back your claims up with tangible examples of how you’ve demonstrated all your impressive qualities through past experiences.

3. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

The fastest way to have your scholarship application passed over is to include spelling or grammatical errors. Use spell-check, proofread your own work (multiple times), and ask someone you trust to review your final draft before you submit it.

What do I need to know about recommendation letters?

1. Know what they are and when to include them.

A recommendation letter for a scholarship is generally written by a teacher, coach, pastor, or school counselor. Letters explain your qualities or accomplishments that warrant receiving a particular scholarship. Some applications will require a recommendation letter (or two) while others won’t ask for any, so read the instructions carefully to know what is expected for each scholarship.

2. Ask strategically.

Because recommendation letters are specific to the individual, and often to the scholarship, too, be strategic about who you ask to write your letter. Consider the relationship you have with that person, how they’ve seen your skills or expertise in relevant areas, and how their role fits with the purpose of the scholarship. For example, if you were applying for an athletic scholarship, your team’s coach could be a smart option.

3. Remember your manners.

Ask your potential recommender politely (and in person if possible) if they would be willing to write your recommendation. Never simply assume they will without asking. Provide your recommender with all the scholarship information so they can tailor their letter to the listed criteria, and ask them far in advance of any application deadlines to allow them ample time to complete the letter on their own schedule.

Wondering about your other financial aid options? Check out this post on the Four Types of Financial Aid.