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Scholarships are an excellent form of financial aid for high school and college students who don’t want to increase their student loan debt. Earning scholarship money is essentially earning free money as scholarships do not need to be repaid at all. 58% of families in 2020 used scholarships to help pay for college.

As a result, both high school and college scholarships are in high demand. Many students of all ages will apply for several scholarships in the hopes of winning money to support their education, meaning this form of financial aid is quite competitive. How, then, can students increase their chances of winning scholarship money?

There are factors that are in your control and out of your control when it comes to putting together a winning scholarship application. It’s important to be aware of which areas you should put the most effort into in order to have a more effective application.

Bold.org allows students to browse through hundreds of scholarships for college and high school in one place. Sign up today to make a free profile and take the stress out of looking for and applying for scholarships. Students can start looking for scholarships by browsing the scholarship page.

What do scholarships look for?

In general, candidates that win scholarship money are hard-working, passionate, and driven. Students who have concrete goals they want to achieve generally write stronger essays and come across as more dedicated. The most obvious way to get a scholarship is to be good at what you are passionate about— whether that’s winning a Science Olympiad competition or being the MVP in your sport.

However, even average students, or students who believe there’s nothing special about them have a shot at winning free financial aid money. In this article, we will go over some steps and strategies students can use to increase their chances of winning a scholarship.

Scholarships also look for students who are generally well-rounded. Maintaining your grades is essential when applying for scholarships. Though not all scholarships will do this, many will stipulate that students must have a certain minimum GPA in order to apply.

Even for students who are interested in fields like art or sports, maintaining good grades is a good strategy for keeping the door open to future opportunities.

Are you an aspiring artist? Check out these art scholarships to reduce your college costs!

Student reading at a desk in their library

Most importantly, high school and college scholarships look for students who are honest and true to themselves. Many scholarships require students to write a short personal statement along with filling out the application. This essay is meant to give students a chance to talk about their interests and accomplishments and let their personalities shine through. Genuine answers are always best, as the goal is to help the donor get a sense of who the applicant is.

Scholarships also look for students of a certain personal background, income bracket, and location. Some students may also qualify for financial aid based on demonstrated financial need. For the most part, these factors are outside of your control. Students may not qualify for a few scholarships based on these points, but applicants should instead spend their energy elsewhere on factors they can control.

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Remaining honest, maintaining good grades, and exploring your interests are all factors that are within your control. When you apply and which opportunities you apply to are also well within your control. As a result, students may benefit the most from focusing on these areas to try to improve their chances of winning a scholarship.

Part I: More is more

  1. Apply often
  2. Apply early
  3. Broaden your search to find scholarships

Part II: Creating a better candidate

  1. Do more things
  2. Do more research
  3. Make a plan

More is more

Apply often

The first rule of getting a scholarship is that perseverance is key. No matter how qualified or talented the applicant is, the sheer amount of competition you will face demands that you apply for more than one scholarship. More than a few, actually— if you can apply to ten, apply to ten. If you can apply to twenty, apply to twenty. Applying frequently is a good strategy.

Increasing the number of scholarships you apply to will increase your chances of winning. It sounds simple, but many students give up after being rejected by the first few scholarships they apply to. Experiencing some rejection is completely normal. Don’t give up.

Even if several scholarships you apply to sound similar, apply to all of them anyway. There’s nothing wrong with winning four biology scholarships in a year— if biology is what you’re good at and interested in, it’s a good thing.

Which college scholarships to apply for

College students and high school students should not be picky about which opportunities they apply for. If you are eligible for a scholarship, you may as well try and send in an application. Finding a financial aid opportunity you are eligible for and not applying is akin to turning down free money. Financial aid is financial aid, after all. It’s true that you may not win even if you apply, but there’s nothing to lose. The thing about scholarships is that you can only either win or try again— there aren’t really any losers in this game. There’s no downside or cost to applying, and if you don’t win, you can always try again.

There are some valid reasons to turn down opportunities you are eligible for. It’s possible you may come across a scholarship that you qualify for, but after reading the essay prompt, you realize that you don’t really have an applicable answer. For example, you may qualify for a certain scholarship that asks you to write about your experiences volunteering in your community. If you don’t have any volunteer experience, it will be difficult to write an honest and effective essay.

However, as long as you qualify and can complete the essay question with integrity, you should almost always apply. For more tips on writing a good essay, read this scholarship essay guide. Even if you believe you will not be the most qualified candidate, it’s a good idea to send in an application anyways.

Two students sitting on a bench on their college campus

Learning from your mistakes

Even lost scholarship attempts are not really losses. Simply writing as many applications as you can and sending them all in is good practice. The more essay questions you write, the better your essays will be. And the more scholarships you look through, the more you will get a feel for which opportunities are a good match for your financial need at the time.

To avoid becoming discouraged, treat each scholarship application as a practice round or homework assignment. Do your best, but don’t pin all your hopes on a single application. Try to learn as much as you can from the process of sending in the application, and eventually, applying for scholarships will be easy.

Remember to continue to apply after winning one or two scholarships. There is no limit to how many scholarships students are allowed to win. Continuing to apply even into college or graduate school is a good idea as well, as there will likely be extra educational costs that crop up as students take on more classes.

Apply Early

Besides applying often, high school and college students alike should apply early, if they can. On a smaller scale, be mindful of the scholarship deadlines for opportunities you would like to apply to. Of course, it’s still possible to apply at the last minute, but giving yourself time to put together a thoughtful application will increase your chances of winning. Many students send in applications that contain small mistakes, which could have been avoided if there was time to proofread the application.

On a larger scale, students should try to start applying for scholarships as early in their academic career as they can. There’s absolutely no wrong time to start applying for scholarships— college students, even graduate students, can and should still apply for financial aid opportunities.

Winning free money takes time

However, a student who begins earlier will have more years before they graduate to apply. A student who begins applying for scholarships as a junior in high school will have six years before they graduate college. In those six years, they can likely find many opportunities that they are eligible for.

Compare this to a student who begins to apply for scholarships in their second year of college. They will have three years to apply before they graduate college. In those three years, a student can still win money and find good opportunities. However, the student who gives themselves more years to apply will likely make a bit more money from scholarships simply because they have more time.

If you can begin applying in high school, excellent. There are many reasons why a student may not be able to apply until they are an undergraduate or graduate student. If that’s the case, don’t worry about it. Whether you have several years or only a few years in front of you before you leave school, make the best of the time you do have.

Broaden your search to find scholarships

Applying to a bevy of scholarships and financial aid opportunities is, of course, only possible if you have access to a lot of scholarships. The scholarship search can be a challenge sometimes. There are two main ways to effectively decide how to get scholarships.

Students should apply for opportunities from several sources to increase their chances of winning. In addition, different organizations may have different opportunities, so students should explore several organizations to find the most relevant opportunities.

First, there are many helpful online platforms and resources like Bold.org. These websites collect many scholarships and opportunities in one location, making it easy for students to sift through hundreds of scholarships in one place. In addition, many of these sites are free to use and have helpful filter tools and search functions to help students find scholarships.

New scholarships are created on Bold.org each day— so again, applying early and applying often will ensure students don’t miss any new opportunities that might be right for them.

In addition, these online resources make it so that students can access scholarships that are created by different donors all over the country. As a result, the sheer multitude of scholarships available on these websites makes it worthwhile for students to look at.

Use your local resources to find scholarships

The second method is to find scholarships through community or school resources. The most obvious resource is your school's financial aid office. Most college students will be able to access financial aid opportunities through their school’s financial aid office.

Unlike online platforms, these offices may not have as many scholarships available. However, school financial aid offices may offer some opportunities that are not open to the public. In other words, only attending students can access certain opportunities. This decreases the competition students face, meaning students may have a better chance of winning money through specialized opportunities their specific school offers.

In addition, many financial aid offices have access to federal student aid programs, such as the work-study program and forms of other financial aid. These federal student aid programs can be invaluable to college students who are trying to make their education more affordable.

Student sitting on the lawn on campus

For high school students, the equivalent is the guidance office. While most high school students don’t have financial aid programs at the same level colleges do, guidance counselors may still be able to direct students to exclusive, local opportunities. If scholarships are not available, guidance counselors may have connections to forms of other financial aid that are worth looking into. In any case, counselors can at least provide support and advice for students having trouble with the scholarship search.

To conclude, online platforms make hundreds of scholarships available in one place, while financial aid offices offer fewer but more exclusive financial aid opportunities. Students should apply for some opportunities from both sources to increase their chances of winning.

Part II: Creating a better candidate

Do more things

The most important thing to remember about filling out financial aid applications is that students should always be honest about their achievements and interests. Being genuine is the best way to convey your personality to the donors.

Many scholarships will ask students to write an essay question. Oftentimes, this question is something like, ‘What are you most passionate about?’ or ‘Why did you choose to study this particular field?’. Even if the question is not worded that way, many prompts essentially boil down to this. Donors want to understand what the applicant is interested in, what drives them, and what they want to accomplish. The purpose of this section is to make answering this question easier for students in the future.

As we mentioned, passionate and driven candidates are usually more likely to win money with scholarships. Some students have concrete goals and are working towards their dream job or career. This type of student usually has a particular interest in a certain area and is involved in organizations related to that field.

For example, a student who is passionate about environmental science might have started a horticulture club at their high school. When it comes time to write about their passions and interests, the student can 1) easily talk about their genuine interest, and 2) back up this passion with the concrete example of starting the gardening club.

If this applies to you, the essay question will likely be relatively easy to answer. However, many students, whether in college or in high school, may not know exactly what they want in life or what they are passionate about.

This is normal for a large number of students. In that case, trying to draw on your extraverted side and exploring your interests more can be helpful. Simply doing more things can be beneficial here. Having more interests and becoming more involved in their community can qualify students for more financial aid opportunities.

Students who like to draw in their free time should consider joining the art club in their community or school. Students who are musical should consider joining an a cappella group on campus or even doing covers on YouTube.

Keep your expectations realistic

Of course, being able to talk about specific achievements or awards is a nice plus in your essay. However, even with hard work, it’s not a guarantee that students will be able to win a specific competition or receive outside recognition for their efforts.

Student working on a laptop on a desk in the library

Students do not need to be wildly successful or have impressive achievements to win scholarships. It’s okay if your YouTube channel doesn’t take off and go viral. It’s fine to get an honorable mention and not first place. Instead, just being active in your community and pursuing your interests can have several benefits.

First, there are some scholarships that require students to have participated in a given activity to apply. For example, community service scholarships are only going to be available to students who have done community service. Participating in different activities and organizations can qualify you for more scholarships, which means more chances to win.

Second, being more active and involved will probably also help you with your college applications, for students who are still in high school. Even for college students, joining campus clubs and organizations will help students make friends, network, and again, qualify for more scholarships.

Third, students may actually discover something they really enjoy doing and are passionate about by branching out and exploring. This would be the optimal result, but it’s not necessary to force it.

To sum up, no matter the outcome of a student’s efforts to explore their interests, they will have gotten a better idea of what they are interested in and passionate about. Regardless of whether dabbling in different areas has actually led to a concrete achievement or not, students who know what they are passionate about may have an easier time writing the essay question of the scholarship application.

The ability to write a genuinely passionate essay on why you dream of becoming an artist or therapist is something that cannot be faked. Students who can write with honesty and ambition are more likely to win.

For that reason, exploring your interests and developing connections in your community are worth spending time on. Even if this doesn’t result in the discovery of a new passion, this may still qualify you for more scholarships and has the happy byproduct of assisting you in college or graduate school applications.

Do more research

The scholarship application process in general will be easier when students are able to make informed decisions. There are a few areas students may want to devote their time to in terms of research.

First, it’s important to understand what your options are. As we discussed in the section about broadening your search, there are a few different methods for finding scholarships. Do some research on what methods are available and appropriate for you.

Online platforms will likely be a good choice for most students. Consider the pros and cons of using just one search engine or a few. What benefits can each website offer you? Which one will suit your needs best? Learn about the functions of each site to take advantage of all the tools available.

Other organizations will also offer scholarship opportunities. Visit your school guidance counselor or financial aid office and ask them what options they offer in terms of financial aid. Learn as much as you can about what your school provides and what you need to do to apply or qualify for those programs.

Students may have access to other organizations outside of school as well. This might include a community group like a cultural organization or a religious establishment you belong to. Asking around in these organizations may help you find local and niche financial aid opportunities you can apply to. For example, many churches may have programs to support one or two students seeking to study theology.

It’s not guaranteed that you will find any scholarships this way, but it’s worth a try to find out more about your options within your community.

Research career options as well as financial aid options

Researching options for your future career may be of use as well. High school students should try to find more information about what they want to study, as well as where they want to go to school. Undergraduate and graduate students should research their current or intended major, as well as what career specifically they are interested in. Take a look at this page on college majors to help you decide.

There will likely be several scholarships students can apply to based on their intended area of study or intended industry. For example, there are many scholarships for college available that support students intending to study biology, architecture, or other fields. High school students may be eligible for this type of scholarship as well. Students should be able to qualify for a few scholarships solely based on what career they want to pursue.

Student typing on a laptop on a blanket on the lawn

Reading about the experiences others have had with certain industries and majors can help students make informed decisions and choose which area of study they feel the most comfortable with. There are many biographies or informational videos students can look at to get the perspective of someone who has already graduated in a certain field. This can help students decide if they can picture themselves in a specific industry or career.

Make sure you know what you're getting into

Different industries and majors also have different requirements. Perhaps one of the best ways to get a sense of what you’ll have to do in order to study in a certain field is to look up a curriculum or plan of study from an established college. Every college will be different, but this allows students to get an idea of what classes they will need to take in order to graduate.

For example, many biology majors will have to take several chemistry and math classes as well. Some requirements may be less intuitive— many computer science majors will have to take physics in order to obtain their degree. It’s okay if students don’t know where they will be going to college; many colleges will have similar requirements. Looking through the graduation requirements at your local state university will help you understand what is required of a certain major.

In addition, students should research the industry itself they are planning to go into. Again, it’s normal for students to be unsure of what they want to study. Gathering more information about all the potential areas you may want to study can help you narrow down your options. It’s not necessary for students to absolutely commit to a certain major in order to apply for college or apply for scholarships.

Make a plan

Doing research and exploring their interests should help students tentatively decide on a plan of action, which can be changed later if necessary.

Even students who are completely undecided may benefit from picking the major they are the most comfortable with as a starting point. Students should choose the area of study they think will be the most realistic and plausible choice for them, not the major or career they think will look better on applications. This allows students to have a point of reference from which they can start to narrow down colleges, and, of course, apply to some scholarships based on their intended major.

High school students should try to decide on what major they might declare in college. Depending on their grade level, current college students should try to decide either their major or their intended career and industry after graduation.

It’s important to note that students should not say they are interested in several fields for the sole purpose of applying for more scholarships. Making a tentative plan means deciding on a course of action, with other areas of interest to fall back on in case things don’t work out. Students should avoid intentionally professing an interest in a field they never intend to actually study.

Doing this simply allows undecided students to be more productive with their time while they consider long-term options. High school and current college students should only voice tentative interest in a certain major if they would be comfortable actually studying that major and taking a career in that industry. Things can always change later, but honesty and staying true to yourself are values that should not be compromised. Researching the fields you are interested in can be invaluable in helping students make a reasonable choice for the future based on their current interests.

Having a plan, even if that plan might change, is generally helpful for your overall academic trajectory.

Two students taking notes on a laptop outside

Frequently Asked Questions

What GPA will get you scholarships?

There is no set GPA that will guarantee that students will receive a scholarship. Students who have very low GPAs may still be able to make a modest amount of money through scholarships. On the other side of the coin, a very high GPA does not mean applicants will definitely win money.

Some scholarships will mandate that students have a certain GPA in order to apply. This number depends on the scholarship, but many scholarships will put their minimum GPA requirements around the 3.0 mark. Some scholarships will have a higher GPA requirement than that, and some scholarships will have a lower requirement.

Not all scholarships will have a GPA requirement, so having a good GPA is a nice plus but not an absolute must for students looking to apply for scholarships. In general, maintaining your grades is a good choice to make to ensure that you are eligible for as many scholarships as possible.

How can I increase my chances of getting a scholarship?

To increase their chances of winning free money through scholarships, students should continuously apply to multiple scholarships so as not to put all their eggs in one basket. Students should also research the options that are available to them so that they are aware of community resources such as the school financial aid office or financial aid offered through local organizations.

It is also a good idea for students to become involved in their school and community. Many scholarships determine eligibility based on a certain hobby or area of study. Doing different things, joining clubs, and being a part of community groups will help students decide what they are interested in.

These experiences will also provide students with concrete memories to write about in their scholarship essays, depending on what the prompt is. Becoming more active will establish connections, help students explore their interests, and possibly qualify students for more scholarships.

What are the disadvantages of scholarships?

Scholarships are an excellent chance to win free money and mitigate student loan debt. For this reason, applying for scholarships is worth the effort in most cases.

One disadvantage of the scholarship system is that it is not a consistent source of money. Each scholarship has a different award amount. Some scholarships may be around a thousand dollars, while others may be around five hundred dollars. Federal student aid can be a more consistent way to meet your financial need.

In addition, students cannot generate a consistent win rate when applying for scholarships. An estimated 7% of students will receive a scholarship. Just because students have won a few scholarships does not mean their wins will be consistent, either in frequency or in financial amount. Remember, the earlier you start the better your chances are. Start applying for scholarships today by making a free profile with Bold.org.