Thursday, April 18, 2024

How to Apply for Scholarships and Grants: All You Need to Know

Unlock opportunities to fund your studies!

Every year, billions of dollars in college scholarships and grants are up for grabs. The best part? You’re not limited to just one, so you can apply for as many as you can handle. 🏅

With the skyrocketing cost of attending college, everything that can ease the financial burden will help. However, navigating college scholarships and grants can be tricky

Figuring out which ones you qualify for, crafting winning applications, and meeting deadlines can feel like a full-time job on top of schoolwork. But learning the ins and outs of applications can unlock a treasure trove of financial aid and make your college dreams a reality. 💰

Why Apply for Grants and Scholarships for College?

Grants and scholarships are types of financial aid that college students don’t have to repay (unlike student loans). They make tuition, student fees, textbook prices, and the general cost of living affordable. 

Beyond the clear benefits to your college budget, college scholarships and grants boost your resume and help build valuable connections. 🌟  

Difference Between College Scholarships and Grants

A common mistake many college students make is assuming that college scholarships and grants are synonymous, but they aren’t. Here are the main distinctions:

GrantsScholarships
Grants are primarily awarded by federal, state, and local governments, as well as private foundations and organizations.Scholarships are primarily awarded by businesses, foundations, philanthropists, and nonprofits.
Grants tend to be need-based and are offered to students based on criteria, such as family income. Scholarships can be earned for academic achievements or other talents, such as baking, app development, and doodling, among others.

What Kind of Scholarships Can I Get — and Am I Eligible?

You don’t need to be a perfect student or a star athlete to earn a college scholarship. There are scholarships for almost any area of interest, whether you’re attending college or a trade school. 📋

Check out these sites and see what kinds of scholarships are out there (waiting) for you:

  • Say you’re a top student, a talented musician, or a budding chef looking for scholarships. Scholarship search tools like the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop or the College Board’s Scholarship Search can help you find opportunities tailored to your skills and interests.
  • If you’re from a low-income family, a number of organizations like Davis-Putter and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provide need-based scholarships.
  • You can even get scholarships for doing community service. For example, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is available to domestic and international students alike.
  • Outside conventional academic or athletic scholarships, there are opportunities for ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, and members of the LGBTQ community. There are even scholarships for gamers, vegetarians, and zombie enthusiasts!

To find the right scholarships, think about what you love or are good at. Look for scholarships that match your interests and strengths for a more effective search. 🤔

photo-of-male-student-applying-for-college-scholarship-and-grants-on-laptop
Apply for scholarships and grants that match you and your interests. Photo: Ekaterina Bolovtsova/Pexels

How Do I Apply for a Scholarship?

Applying for scholarships is not a complicated process, but it requires time and attention to detail. Here’s what you need to do:

Check Eligibility Requirements 

Each scholarship is tailored to specific criteria, ranging from academic excellence to extracurricular involvement and financial need. Carefully review the eligibility requirements of each scholarship before investing time in the application process. Some scholarships may include performance requirements, such as maintaining a certain GPA throughout your studies. ✅

Take Note of the Scholarship Deadline

Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to embark on your scholarship search. Start the process at least a month before the application deadline to provide ample time to gather necessary materials, craft compelling essays, and seek guidance from mentors or counselors. 🗓️

Good to know: Most scholarship deadlines fall between September and May. Starting on your applications early provides the advantage of accounting for any unexpected delays.

READ MORE: 17 Top Tips to Beat Procrastination in College — for Good

Assemble Your Documents

Most scholarship applications will require:

Write a Killer Scholarship Essay

Your scholarship essay is a chance to impress the scholarship committee with achievements beyond academics. Here are a few simple tips to make sure you smash your essay:

Prioritize deadlines: Start with applications with the closest deadlines. If applying early, consider both essay length/structure and the prompt’s potential for expansive arguments or in-depth analysis. Choose which aspect to prioritize based on your writing strengths and the specific prompts.

Refine and repurpose content: This proactive approach lets you efficiently reuse material for multiple applications. 

Follow the instructions: Every scholarship application will come with its own set of instructions. Follow them to a T. For instance, if there’s a word limit, stick to it. 

Create an outline: Outline your essay to provide a clear roadmap for your thoughts and arguments. A well-thought-out outline ensures clarity and streamlines the writing process.

Inject Personal Narratives: Share compelling personal narratives that showcase your unique perspective and resilience. Personal stories resonate with readers and can set your essay apart from others.

Show, Don’t Just Tell: Instead of simply listing achievements, illustrate their impact on your life or others. Use vivid examples and anecdotes to bring your accomplishments to life.

Revise and Seek Feedback: Invest time in meticulously revising your essay. Seek feedback from diverse sources like peers, mentors, or teachers to gain valuable insights or uncover blind spots. 

Proofread and proofread again: For a convincing scholarship essay, spelling and grammar must be edited to perfection. It’s wise to ask multiple friends, family members, or teachers to proofread yours, and to consider using grammar-checking software like Grammarly or ProWritingAid to catch any errors you might miss.

Submit Your Application

Double-check and proofread your essay, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork, and ensure the application form is fully filled out. Since your scholarship application is crucial, take a moment to carefully review all your documents before hitting that submit button. 🧐

When Should I Start Applying for Scholarships for College?

Scholarships are available year-round, but most scholarship deadlines fall between September and May. This means that securing scholarships requires ongoing diligence and careful planning, not just during breaks from school. The summer after your junior year is an ideal time to kickstart your scholarship search and application process. 💯

TIP: Spread out your application efforts by working on them gradually throughout the year. This allows you to avoid last-minute rushes and dedicate ample attention to crafting compelling essays and gathering necessary documents.

Where Can I Find a College Scholarship or Grant?

When you start looking for college scholarships and grants, the over-abundance of opportunities can be overwhelming. Check the following sources to narrow your search:

Remember, you should never have to pay to receive financial aid, so watch out for scammers who ask for money in exchange for scholarship information. ⚠️

Who Provides College Scholarships and Grants for College?

Many scholarships come from private organizations, foundations, and corporations keen on supporting higher education. They often focus on promoting specific fields of study, encouraging diversity, or fostering community engagement. 🎓

These scholarships may not always offer tens of thousands of dollars, but they can still make a significant dent in your college expenses. Additionally, colleges and universities may fund scholarships as a way to attract and support talented students

On the other hand, while federal, state, and collegiate grants are common, there are also plenty of grants from private organizations that are available for specific groups, such as international students, minorities, and women. ♀️

For instance, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) provides grants to women who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to pursue further education. ♀️

How Will I Receive My Scholarship and Grant Money?

Let’s say you win a scholarship (hooray!), can you expect someone to come knocking at your door with a giant cheque or sack of cash? Unfortunately, not. While it is less theatrical, getting your scholarship or grant money should be a seamless transaction. 

Funds from government or private college scholarships and grants are usually applied to cover your college expenses automatically. They will be directly credited against your tuition, fees, and other outstanding balances. 💵

Depending on the type of aid you receive, the money may be sent as a complete amount or multiple disbursements that add up to the total scholarship amount. In some cases, the money may be sent to you by check or direct deposit into your bank account

photo-of-two-college-graduates-with-scholarships-celebrating
A scholarship or grant can significantly reduce student debt upon graduation. Photo: Garret Schappacher/Pexels

Tips for Applying for a Scholarship for College

With the cost of attending college increasing each year, the competition for scholarships and grants is on the rise.

To increase your chances of receiving financial aid: 📈

  • Don’t ignore small reward amounts — they can add up!
  • Read the directions carefully before you start filling out your application.
  • Keep a backup file of your work in case something goes wrong.
  • To make sure you apply on time, mark your calendar with deadlines or use apps to help you keep track, such as Deadline Tracker, which is specifically designed for managing deadlines, and ClickUp, a project management tool with deadline-tracking features.
  • If you’re stuck or need help, contact the organization offering the scholarship.

How Do I Apply for a Grant?

Not sure if you’re eligible for a grant? Apply anyway. An estimated $100 million in scholarships and $2 billion in student grants remain unclaimed annually. Students who didn’t apply missed out on an average of $4,000. 🙀 

If you’d rather have that money in your college fund, all you need to do is fill out your FAFSA (the official form used to apply for federal and state aid).

In addition to that, some schools utilize the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS) Profile to assess financial aid eligibility for non-federal aid. If your target school uses this system, you need to create a College Board account and fill out your CSS Profile. 🔎

But don’t get these two applications confused; the FAFSA is the only form used for all types of federal aid, including Pell Grants, federal loans, etc., while the CSS Profile is used at select schools for institutional aid. 

Good to know: Both the FAFSA and CSS Profile need to be completed and submitted on time, so keep an eye out for deadlines. Typically, the FAFSA deadline is in early June, while the CSS Profile deadline varies by college but is often around the same time. 

How Will a Scholarship or Grant Affect My Financial Aid?

When applying for scholarships and grants, look into whether an outside scholarship can impact your school’s financial aid package. Here’s why:

Colleges will first calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — based on the information in your FAFSA about your family’s financial situation — to determine how much need-based aid you qualify for. 

The college will then subtract the EFC from the estimated cost of attendance to determine your financial aid package. If you receive an outside scholarship or grant, you must inform your school. This is because the additional funding can be seen as an asset and can increase your EFC. 🧾

For example, if your school calculated your EFC at $10,000 and you received another $5,000 in outside scholarships or grants, your school will now consider you to have $5,000 more in assets. 

This means your new EFC would be $15,000. Your school may then choose to award you less financial aid.

When financial aid offices adjust your financial aid award to account for outside scholarships or grants, they will usually first decrease the “less desirable” forms of aid, such as student loans or work-study income. 

This means they will try to reduce the amount of aid you need to borrow or work for, before reducing the amount of grant aid you receive. 💲


Receiving college scholarships and grants is like winning the lottery — you can hit the jackpot just by applying. All you have to do is stay motivated and keep at it. 💪

So start early, be thorough in your search efforts, and keep applying on a regular basis. After all, you can’t win if you don’t play! 🏆

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