Maximize Your Scholarship Potential with Top 10 Tips from ECMC
MINNEAPOLIS: The start of the year means the start of prime scholarship season for current and incoming college students.
While many scholarships open in September, January through the first part of March is the ideal time for students to apply for scholarships, with most of the deadlines occurring by March 15, said Abril Hunt, national trainings manager, outreach and financial literacy at ECMC. Scholarships are a great way to reduce the cost of college. With the multitude of options available, students just need to know how to find them.
ECMC, which works to lower student loan default rates and sponsors financial literacy programs, developed the following tips to help students and families maximize their scholarship potential:
Leave no scholarship stone unturned. To increase the likelihood of obtaining scholarships, look for options in every area of your life: field of study, extracurricular activities, geographic area, heritage, employer, etc.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Applying for a large number of scholarships, versus a small number of high dollar offerings, can help you maximize chances of winning.
Get to know yourself. The first step to create a compelling essay is taking time to reflect on your strengths, activities you enjoy, favorite subjects and what's important to you. Writing about something you care about is often easier and more enjoyable.
Get involved in your community. Most scholarships request some type of community service. Working short periods for many different organizations is okay, but spending time volunteering at one or two key organizations gives you more depth of experience and can make for a stronger application.
Don't sell yourself short. If you didn't have time to volunteer with a community organization but you worked and went to school, or you are a single parent and trying to juggle family/work/school, leverage those activities that illustrate your tenacity and ability to overcome obstacles.
Be yourself. You may not have a specific example of every personal characteristic—some people consider themselves leaders, while others feel strongly about their academics or volunteerism. Don't focus on what you think might lead to a good essay. Make your personal story come alive, and be honest about your life experiences.
Learn from past winners. Request sample winning entries from the organization administering the scholarship program. This can provide insight on the types of individuals and/or essays that won in the past.
Work smarter, not harder. If possible, leverage your school work for your scholarship essays. Need to write a personal essay? Pen it with the application in mind. Or edit one that you've previously drafted. Of course, make sure the essay you submit is your work!
Get through the first look. The judges' first evaluation of your application is quick—usually 15 to 30 seconds—so make sure everything is complete. Also, be sure to craft an application that will capture the judges' interest right away.
Be persistent. There are many kinds of scholarships available, including unique ones, if you know where to look and are willing to do some legwork. Some great resources include www.fastweb.com, www.scholarships.com, www.goldendoorscholars.org or simply search online for weird scholarships. Apply to as many as possible, and don't discount a scholarship because it's small. Smaller scholarships are less competitive. Think about the hourly rate earned if you receive a $500 scholarship that took you two hours to complete.
In addition to these tips, ECMC offers a free, downloadable Opportunities workbook that features a variety of worksheets and information in English and Spanish to help students throughout the college planning process.
For more information, visit www.ecmc.org/students.