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When should you start applying for scholarships?

Written by Kate Townley
Updated: September 2, 2022
5 min read
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It's important to think about the costs of college early in your search process (and if you're reading this article, you probably already are).

Many young students don't have time to work and save up a sufficient amount of money, as their full-time "job" is usually going to school, doing homework, and being involved as a student. Federal student aid is also helpful, but it often comes in the form of loans that students will need to pay off, adding more stress to an already challenging experience. Scholarships, on the other hand, are essentially free money; scholarship awards never have to be repaid.

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But when can you start applying for scholarships? And when is the best time to apply?

Students are encouraged to seek out scholarships as soon as they are eligible. Throughout high school, students are encouraged to look ahead to their college expenses and apply for scholarships early and often.

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How soon is too soon to apply for scholarships?

Students can begin applying for college scholarships as early as age 14.

Those under the age of 14 are not yet eligible to apply for scholarships but can get ahead by working on their extracurricular involvement, community service, and academic performance. Younger students should focus on doing well in school and building good study habits.

So should you begin applying right when you turn 14? Does it even make sense to apply when you are up against students who are older and more experienced?

The answer is yes, and here's why: the only way you get more experienced at something is by practicing. Early on in high school, students can learn about how scholarship applications work and how to find scholarships that they are best suited for.

The federal student aid office recommends students begin applying to scholarships at least the summer break before their final academic year of high school, but applying even earlier can make you eligible for many scholarships. Submitting applications from an early high school age allows students to become comfortable with applying for scholarships. By the time they come to their junior and senior years, students will know how to apply for college scholarships, how to meet scholarship deadlines, and how to write strong scholarship essays.

Many students begin their scholarship search in their junior year of high school. Junior year is packed full of college preparation, between taking the ACT/SAT and touring colleges. As students prepare for their future, they start to think more critically about what financial aid they will need and where they can get it from. Scholarships are pushed most heavily for high school seniors because they are the closest to entering college, but the more applications you submit early on, the better chance you have of winning.

Wondering if scholarships expire? Check out this blog to learn more!

Why are scholarships so hard to find?

There are many scholarship opportunities available for incoming students about to start college, but you have to know where to look. From merit based scholarships to athletic scholarships, offers a wide range of scholarships available to students of all education levels and backgrounds. Still, despite so many available scholarships, it can be difficult to find scholarships that you are eligible for.

To have the best chances of winning scholarship money, students are encouraged to apply for college scholarships with several eligibility requirements. The more criteria there are in order for students to apply, the fewer people will be eligible to apply; this will make your chances of winning free money that much higher.

On, a great place to start your search is the scholarship categories page. There, you can find groups of scholarships that are tailored specifically to you. There are categories by state, ethnicity, education level, major, background, identity, hobbies, and so on. In these categories, and on the scholarship search page, you can find merit scholarships, need-based scholarships, and a variety of private scholarships that can provide excellent financial aid.

It might take time to find scholarships that are best for you, but if you use your resources - both online and in person, with school counselors or your financial aid office - you will have a chance to apply for more scholarships than you may have thought possible.

Should I apply to colleges or scholarships first?

The first half of a student's senior year is usually dominated by college applications, but that doesn't mean scholarships have to wait. Students can start applying for scholarships at the same time as their college applications. Scholarships that aren't school-specific can be applied to whatever school you attend, so you don't need to wait until you're accepted to a college before applying for scholarships.

There are no official scholarship seasons, so if you wait until you are accepted to a school to begin applying, you will miss out on opportunities available earlier in the year. Senior year is an important time for scholarships, so as students lock in what school they want to attend, they should also apply for as many scholarships as they are reasonably able to.

It's also important to keep in mind that during your senior year, you can begin thinking forward to other financial aid options. You can apply for the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to earn federal student aid and talk to your guidance counselors about the best options for your future plans.

Frequently asked questions about when to apply for scholarships

When is too late to apply for scholarships?

It's more common to hear that it's "never too early" to seek out scholarships, but on the other hand, it's never too late! High schoolers, undergraduates, and graduate students all have the opportunity to get financial aid, including various scholarships.

What is the easiest scholarship to get?

When it comes to getting scholarships, much like the case with schooling, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. While some scholarship applications may be easy to apply for and only take a few clicks, they aren't necessarily the easiest to win.

The broader the scholarship requirements, the more people will apply, especially in the case of easy, no-essay scholarships. These opportunities may be easier to apply for, but the easiest scholarships to get are the ones that have more eligibility requirements because fewer students will be applying.

How should I apply for scholarships?

Scholarships are offered in various mediums and may require different application processes; always read the scholarship description and reach out to the organizer if you have clarifying questions.

There may also be scholarship opportunities exclusively available in your community, state, or school. Students are encouraged to apply for some scholarships from a variety of sources so they have a wide range of opportunities for financial aid.

You can also speak with your school's financial aid office or talk with an advisor who can help you find the best opportunities for you. is an easy-to-use, free online scholarship platform and a great resource for finding online scholarship applications; create an account in just a few steps and apply for scholarships today!

Kate Townley

About Kate

Kate is passionate about using writing to educate and help others. Her research and writing skills allow her to create expert content for Nearing the completion of her degrees in both Journalism and Astrophysics at Michigan State University, she has experience with advanced research as well as factual reporting. 

She has done professional freelance writing for Hour Detroit Magazine and is both a writer and editor for the online publication Her Campus, geared towards college students. Additionally, her background working in a public school district gives her a unique perspective that can serve students on their journey to higher education. Following her education, Kate plans to pursue a career as a scientific writer.

Kate is no longer with the Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

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