The Best Ultimate Guide to Winning Scholarships

Getting an education is one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. With the soaring costs of tuition, fees, room and board, most students need to get creative when it comes to financing their education. Scholarships can be a huge help, providing free money that doesn’t need to be paid back. However, the scholarship application process can be highly competitive, with thousands of applicants vying for the same awards.

To increase your chances of winning scholarships, you need to have a strategic plan of attack. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll share proven tips and strategies for maximizing your scholarship success.

Start Your Search Early

The earlier you start your scholarship search, the better your chances of securing funding. Some scholarship deadlines are up to a year in advance of when the money will be awarded, so don’t wait until the last minute. Make a timeline of scholarship opportunities and their deadlines so you can plan ahead and give yourself ample time to submit quality applications.

There are thousands of scholarships out there from a wide variety of organizations, so it’s important to cast a wide net. Start by having your school’s financial aid office do a scholarship search to see what you’re eligible for. Also, talk to your parents to see if their employers or any organizations they belong to offer scholarships. Don’t forget about community organizations, religious groups, and your local businesses as potential scholarship sources as well.

Focus on Scholarships You’re Genuinely Eligible For

While it may be tempting to apply for every scholarship out there, that’s not the best use of your time and energy. Instead, carefully read the eligibility requirements for each scholarship. Does your GPA meet the minimum? Do you have the required major or extracurricular activities? Only spend time on applications where you truly meet the criteria.

That said, don’t rule yourself out just because you don’t fit the “perfect candidate” profile. Some scholarships may have flexible requirements, or may use the essay or recommendation letters to make their final decisions. As long as you mostly meet the basic criteria, it’s worth giving it a shot.

Craft a Compelling Essay

For many scholarships, the essay is the most important component of the application. This is your chance to share your story, goals, financial need, and why you’re the ideal candidate. Follow these tips to create a standout essay:

• Capture the reader’s attention with an engaging opening paragraph
• Use specific examples to illustrate your key points
• Explain how this scholarship will help you achieve your goals
• Convey your genuine passion and enthusiasm
• Stay focused and on message
• Proofread carefully for spelling, grammar and flow

You may need to write a number of essays tailored to each scholarship, so budget your time wisely. Make a chart to track which essays need to be customized for which scholarships.

Quantify Your Accomplishments

Scholarship committees want to see impact and quantifiable results. For example, don’t just say you volunteered – instead specify how many hours per week you volunteered and what tangible impact you made. If you held a leadership role, share stats on your achievements like raising X dollars for charity or increasing club membership by X percent. Use hard numbers whenever possible to validate the significance of your accomplishments.

Get Awesome Recommendation Letters

A stellar recommendation letter can set you apart from other applicants. First, choose your recommendation writers wisely. Ask former managers, teachers, coaches, or professors who knew you well and can speak enthusiastically about your strengths and achievements. Provide them with a copy of your resume, the scholarship details, and specific anecdotes or traits you’d like them to highlight.

Follow Up and Send Thank You Notes

After submitting your scholarship application, follow up with the organization to confirm they’ve received all required materials. A polite email checking on the status of your application shows you’re truly interested.

Whether you win the scholarship or not, always write thank you notes. This simply courtesy can help set you apart from other applicants. For scholarships you did win, thank them again for the financial support and let them know how the funds will help you achieve your goals.

Keep Applying Each Year

Just because you didn’t win a scholarship this year, doesn’t mean you won’t be eligible for it next year. Scholarship requirements can change from year to year, so reapply for scholarships each academic year you’re in college. Your financial need may increase, your accomplishments and experience grow, or you may now perfectly fit new criteria. Persistence pays off.

Optimize Your Online Presence

Today, many scholarship organizations will Google student applicants to vet their background and materials. Make sure your online footprint presents you in a positive light. Use the highest privacy settings on social media, remove any inappropriate content, and create accounts on LinkedIn and portfolio sites to showcase your skills and achievements.scholarship

The key to winning scholarships is treating the application process like a job search. Put in the time and effort to tailor each application for a specific scholarship. Follow instructions precisely and create impeccable, error-free materials. With a strategic approach and persistence, you’ll increase your chances of earning funding to support your education goals.


Applying for scholarships requires an investment of time and effort, but the payoff of getting your education paid for makes it extremely worthwhile. By following the strategies outlined here – starting your search early, focusing on scholarships you’re truly eligible for, crafting a compelling essay, quantifying your accomplishments, lining up strong recommendations, following up, reapplying each year, and maintaining a positive online presence – you’ll set yourself apart from the competition.

The scholarship application process provides excellent real-world experience in presenting yourself professionally, meeting deadlines, writing persuasively, and selling your skills and background. Even if you don’t win every scholarship you apply for, you’ll gain valuable practice in marketing yourself.

Most importantly, don’t get discouraged if you face rejection along the way. The scholarship money is out there, you just need to keep plugging away until you land the awards you deserve. By being strategic and persistent with your scholarship search and applications, you’ll increase your chances of earning funds to make your college education more affordable. Take it step-by-step, and you’ll make your scholarship dream a reality.