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Financial Aid | Scholarships | Budgeting

6 Tips for Maximizing Your College Scholarship Potential

Diving into scholarship applications can seem a little daunting. But there are many ways that future college students can make themselves look even better to groups looking to offer up some financial assistance.

Make sure you follow these simple steps when applying.

1. Google Yourself

One step to take before you start submitting applications is ensuring that your web presence is clean and tidy. Glance through your public-facing social media profiles and scrub out any potentially offensive or inappropriate imagery or posts. The first page of Google results when searching your name online says a lot about you—make sure it's saying positive things. Also, consider creating professional profiles, such as LinkedIn, or sharing your writing ability via a blog or other platform like Medium. Cleaning your web presence isn't just about taking away—it's okay to add some impressive results to your name's Google search, too.

2. Apply Early

This one almost goes without saying—but it's still important to keep in mind. Don't forget the deadlines. Make sure you're meeting all application due dates—and perhaps even submitting them a little early. (After all, most foundations and national nonprofits receive thousands of applications to sift through—it can't hurt to be one of the first!) Plus, many scholarship applications will have "priority deadlines" in which students who submit earlier are given preferential treatment in final allocation decisions. If an application you're pursuing offers a priority deadline, it's always a good idea to shoot for meeting it.

3. Focus on Community

So what do scholarship decision-making bodies look for, anyway? Beyond simply a stellar GPA and test scores, many are looking for students who go above and beyond classroom excellence. They're looking for individuals who've made a difference in their communities, big and small. Take advantage of student groups and organizations at your school that entail community service and volunteering. And take opportunities to get involved in local charities and nonprofits outside of school—the more leadership and community initiative you can show, the more scholarships for which you'll be eligible. 

4. Don’t Neglect Local

One common misconception is that scholarships are only offered through colleges and universities and national nonprofits and foundations. Don't forget that your own hometown probably offers funding for college education as well. Talk to your high school counselor about local options of which he or she is aware. And be on the lookout for prominent businesses and nonprofits in the community—they may offer applications for scholarships as well. (Hint—connections you make from #2 on this list will help you find these opportunities more easily.)

5. Write Creatively

Though it might be easy to resort to treating any application essays like a résumé or a research paper, don't forget that it's an opportunity to show off your creativity as well. Instead of rattling off facts and figures about yourself, tell a story. Make it personal, and use your first few sentences to be memorable and impactful. You want your applications and essays to be worth reading to a committee or individual who's tasked with reading a lot of submissions. Take your chance to be bold!

6. Abide by Essay Rules

You want to go above and beyond with your scholarship applications—but don't break any rules. If guidelines specifically mention a maximum word count, page count or number of characters, stick to it. You won't get extra points for going over the limit—in fact, it could disqualify you from consideration in some cases. Also, make sure you submit your essays and apps in the right format—some organizations will ask for specific file types in your submission. Give scholarship providers what they ask for—add your personal spin in the messaging and the writing style.