A few months ago, I noticed my friend Abby was having some real success in helping her daughter raise money for college. She was putting in the work, finding scholarship opportunities that made sense, and having her daughter apply for free scholarship money.
I asked Abby if she wouldn’t mind sharing some of her knowledge with you as I felt it would be relevant for a number of my readers. With that, here’s Abby:
What if I told you that as of right now my daughter has earned $6,000 in scholarships? No biggie, right? What if I told you that my daughter is only a junior in high school? Did you know you can start looking for college scholarships that early? Well, you can!
Here are a few myths regarding scholarships:
- You need a 4.00 GPA to receive scholarships or be an all star athlete
- Only those who are in financial need receive scholarships
- You can only receive one scholarship
- The only place to look for scholarships is the school counselor
Let me take you on the journey I have taken so far on trying to help my children find a way to pay for their college education.
How to Find Free Scholarship Money
Paying for a college education was something a student could actually do as they went with a part time job when I went to college. That is just not the case anymore. College prices have doubled, tripled or more in the prices they once were.
After seeing the prices of college tuition and knowing my children were reaching that age, I began to look around at ways to help my kids out.
I found the book Confessions of a Scholarship Winner on Amazon and it really inspired me! The author of this book, Kristina Ellis, received over $500,000 in free scholarship money!
Here is the best part: she was NOT a 4.00 GPA student. She is a talented lady for sure, but honestly her talent lies in her determination to give herself her best future. After reading this book, I decided to put some of Ms. Ellis’s tips to use.
How & When to Start Looking for Scholarships
Just like most of you, it had not occurred to me to start looking for free scholarship money before my kids’ senior year in high school.
This is the approach we took for my son (my oldest). While he received multiple merit-based scholarships for his high GPA, I now look back and wish we had started earlier with him!
When it came to my next-in-line child, my daughter, we decided to start applying for scholarships during her sophomore year in high school.
She applied for many that year, but it was not until November of her junior year that we started seeing her hard work pay off.
There are many scholarship matching websites (that are free of charge to use) that will use your information to match you up to scholarships that suit you best.
The information they collect may include your child’s interests, religion, ethnicity, state they live in, or career choice.
There are so many very specific scholarships that you may think “why are they asking that weird question?” but it is to determine if you match with certain scholarships.
After all the info is entered you will see a list of scholarships. Now they may not all be a perfect fit, but it gives you a place to start. A few websites I recommend using for scholarship matching include Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and Unigo.
The next step is to start applying. There are so many scholarships out there and each ask for different requirements. Some are essays while others ask for a video.
Please be open minded about what is being asked. If you instantly decide “nah, I do not want to mess with making videos,” remind yourself every time you say I am not going to do something you are shutting a door for an opportunity for more funds.
With cell phone cameras as an easy tool, why not do a short video?
Of course, be prepared to receive quite a few rejections. Just because you are not seeing any wins right away does not mean you should give up! It means you need to learn from your mistakes.
Many of the applications my daughter sent off that spring helped her get better and better at them. I am so glad she learned this then. Wouldn’t it have been horrible to be in her senior year and learn she had messed up so many opportunities?
My suggestion is to start either your child’s freshman or sophomore year in high school.
Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when applying for free scholarship money:
- Make sure you qualify for the scholarship. Read the eligibility requirements.
- Pay attention to the deadline and do not procrastinate. There’s nothing worse than putting in all the work only to realize today is the deadline and you are having computer issues.
- Read all of the directions. Make sure to include every document they ask for from essays to transcripts to letters of recommendations.
- Stay organized. Whatever organization tool works for you, whether it be spreadsheets or a calendar, keep all of your information. You will want to keep info regarding upcoming deadlines and all of the scholarships you have finished applying to so you can refer to them later.
Tips for Writing Winning Scholarship Essays
If your application requires an essay, encourage your child to brainstorm ideas and to stand out from the crowd.
I once read about a scholarship advisor who said she was reading essays that answered the question: “tell me someone that has inspired you by overcoming great obstacles.”
She said almost every single essay she read talked about their mother. While that is a super sweet sentiment, the essays all sounded the same and it was hard to find a stand out winner.
After hearing this, I encouraged my son to remember this when it came time for his scholarship essays to pick something unique. So that is just what he did.
He actually came across the same prompting for one of his essays and he chose to write it on Batman. He spoke of how Batman lost both his parents at a very early age and used this grief and turned his life into fighting crime. This essay won him a scholarship.
The idea here is make your essay memorable.
Once the essay has been written, save it and give it at least one overnight rest. Come back at it the next day with fresh ideas and reread it to see if you can word it a little better or catch any grammatical errors or misspelled words.
Also make sure you are following the number of words requested, formatted the document in the way they have requested, and maybe even have someone else read over it to give their advice on any changes they may suggest.
The essay question you will probably get asked most is why you deserve to win the scholarship. I would suggest working on this essay right now.
Write it out, have your English teacher give his/her suggestions until it is just the way you want, save it and have it ready to copy and paste into scholarship applications as needed.
You will find that many of the scholarships you find have the same or similar promptings so you can reuse many essays but be sure to read your essay again to make sure it is the perfect fit for that application before you send it off.
You may need to tweak that essay a bit to make it fit that specific scholarship application.
Other Items to Gather for Scholarship Applications
In my experience, these are the most requested items for scholarship applications:
- School transcript (this is something the guidance counselor will have; give them a call to get a copy)
- Proof that the student is in school (School ASB or ID card works)
- Letters of recommendation
- Acceptance letter to get into college
- Short bio
I recommend you gather these at the start of your process and have them on file. It will make the application process much smoother.
Good luck to you and your children in your pursuit to getting their education paid for!