How To Win Scholarships

Even before I graduated from high school I knew I need to win scholarships to help pay for college. Scholarships are free money for the most part but you have to spend some time to finding the scholarships and filling out the applications. In the end, it was worth it for me because over the course of my 4 years in college I probably received about $20,000 in scholarship money!

There are many different types of scholarships. There are need-based scholarships (obviously based on financial need), academic scholarships (based on grades), and special qualification scholarships (such as organizations, gender, ethnic background, etc)  just to name a few.

There are also a ton of places to check for scholarships. FastWeb is a scholarship search engine I used while I was attending college. You can also find scholarships through high school guidance counselors and college financial aid departments. Another great place to look is the student or parent’s current employer and the potential future employers of the student. This is not an exhaustive list so check anywhere you can think may offer a scholarship.

How To Win A Scholarship You Want To Apply For

The first step in winning a scholarship is applying for it. If you don’t apply you have a 99.99% chance of not winning. The .01% are the scholarships that you must be nominated for and can’t apply for. Once you start looking you will realize there are thousands and thousands of scholarships out there, but chances are you won’t qualify for a lot of them. Don’t get discouraged. Find the scholarships you can qualify for and apply for those.

Once you find scholarships you qualify for here are some tips to increase your chances of winning:

  • The more effort it takes to apply for a scholarship the fewer number of applications the scholarship sponsor will likely get. This increases your chances of winning so don’t write off any scholarship application just because it requires an essay.
  • Try to find the applications with the smallest potential pool of applicants possible. Do you have a unique heritage? There might be a scholarship for that. Are one of your parents in the military? Apply for the local commissary scholarships! Even better, submit your scholarship to a commissary in the area with as small a population as possible to increase your odds of winning. Did military parent work on aircraft carriers? Mine did and believe it or not there are scholarships for that too!
  • While applying for a scholarship keep your audience in mind. Write to who will be reviewing the scholarship entries and tailor your experiences/essay/qualifications to get the reviewer to want to pick you. If you are writing for a military based scholarship don’t offend the military.
  • Do not lie! If you lied you will likely get your scholarship application tossed out or if you were awarded the scholarship it could be revoked.
  • After you apply, follow up with the scholarship organization to ensure they received your submission if at all possible. This shows your continued interest in the scholarship organization.

Make sure to keep track of all of the scholarships you apply to. Whenever you hear back, update the status of each individual scholarship on your list. This will allow you to be able to analyze what types of scholarships you seem to be winning. In the future, make sure you apply to more of the types of scholarships you are winning.

I used all of these tips when I applied for scholarships. The ones I normally ended up winning were academic based or were based on my parents’ previous or current employment. I have to admit though, for every 1 scholarship I won I easily got rejected by 20 others. Keep your chin up and keep applying! Scholarship money was some of the easiest money I have made in my life and I am very thankful to all those who helped me complete my education.

Do you have any other tips for applying for and winning scholarships? Did you get any scholarships when you were in college?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. This are some great tips! Unfortunately I was lazy when applying for scholarships when I went off to college. I wish I would have been more understanding of how important it was and how just dedicating a few hours could have paid off substantially!

  2. I wish I had known more when I was in high school. I thought scholarships were for the extremely smart kids, but now that I know I had a shot…it’s too late. I messed up in undergrad so I don’t have a shot at scholarships for law school now, but I’m going to bust my ass and work hard so I can get some for my 2nd and 3rd years. I’m also scoping out some diversity scholarships.

  3. Yes I have one tip, that is to scout for one. Every year thousands of scholarships remain un applied for.

  4. @Jason – I think I could have gotten more if I spent more time doing them but at that point in life you don’t realize how important the free money is.

    @From Shopping to Saving – There are some crazy ones out there. Some have to do with what your last name is and others and completely random. I’m sure you can find some if you try 🙂

    @ SB – One Cent at a Time — That is so true. Thanks for pointing it out!

  5. Ornella says:

    hi lance,

    I think a really good tip is keep track of the essays you write. Some scholarships ask similar questions and you can pull from the essays you have already written. Have at least a handful saved.

  6. Great tips. Could have used this back in the day. I applied for basic stuff like Pell Grants. Should really have expanded my search. Terrific point about just applying. Like everything else in life, just do it!

  7. Monroe on a Budget says:

    I did a multimedia package in February discussing scholarships that are available to southeast Michigan students. This involved a week of blog posts, a Sunday feature at the newspaper where I work, and a guest spot on a local radio station.

    The point I wanted to make is that third-party scholarships such as the ones awarded by civic clubs, business foundations, employers, and memorial foundations are typically reviewed and awarded once a year. The application season starts in January and February; and the deadlines generally are in February and March.

    Randomly enough, April 1 is also the deadline for the community college scholarships in my city.

    The reason for deadlines to be so early is so that the high school seniors who win those scholarships are typically acknowledged at their school’s senior awards assembly. And at the college level, scholarships are often recruiting tactics for incoming students.

    While my project focused on a specific community, many of the national programs also have application season early in the academic year for the following year. When I was a high school student in Ohio applying for a national foundation’s scholarship, I had to file the application in January and the announcement was made in April.

  8. Monica Matthews, says:

    College scholarships are an amazing way to help pay for college and reduce or even eliminate college debt. Apply for as many as you possibly can and treat scholarship searching and applying like a part-time job. My son won over $100,000 in college scholarships and went to college for free! 🙂

  9. I did the same thing as you! I worked really hard and was determined. A lot of the other high schoolers wouldn’t have the patience for it, but I just applied to any scholarships/grants that I could find. I looked at my counties website for scholarships and found TONS there. Sometimes if I fit all of the criteria, except one, I would apply with a letter attached. A lot of times they don’t get ANY applicants, so they would prefer to give the scholarship to SOMEONE.

  10. Man, $20,000 is huge money!

    I only applied for one, probably b/c I was too lazy and didn’t know better. It was for about $1,000. Not huge, but better than a poke in the eye!


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