How-To Time: Finding Under-the-Radar Scholarships & Nailing Your Application

Forget the NFL. It’s Scholarships Season! Just kidding, that’s year-round; But how to get one? Or two? Here’s a quick guide on not just finding scholarships, but nailing your application too.

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Where are you right now—work? Home? School? Wherever you find yourself, the odds are you qualify for some kind of scholarship. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of scholarships out there, for people of all walks of life, not just graduating high school students. There are job-specific scholarships; there are regional scholarships; there are those aforementioned high school scholarships and a whole lot more besides.

According to, each year more than a million private scholarships and fellowships are awarded! But the fact that there are so many means it’s hard to know where to begin. To paraphrase Shakespeare: “there’s the rub.” Below are a few tried and true tips for finding and then applying to scholarships, that way you can get started on furthering your education and paying for it too!

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1. Think About What Makes You Special (And Be Specific)!

Now, we are all special. What I mean by this first tip is to identify some basic facts about yourself: are you in school currently? Do you work and, if so, where? Where are you located? Do you participate in any extracurricular activities or have any hobbies? Are you, or a family member, a veteran or active armed forces service member? Are you a member of a non-profit organization, a local P.T.A., a religious organization? All these (and more!) could easily lead to potential scholarships so it’s important to narrow down your possibilities beforehand, that way you’ve not left scrolling for hours (maybe even days!).

Make a bulleted list with different facets of yourself (but maybe leave off which of the five love languages you speak for another time!). This will give you handy search terms as you start your research and I pinky-promise will save you time and energy in the long run.

Here are just a few scholarship sites to get you started:

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2. Apply to Many & Multiple!

My mom has a saying: “Put as many irons in the fire as possible.” She’s usually referring to looking for a job opportunity (again another blog for another time!), but the advice is just as applicable to scholarship opportunities.

Apply to scholarships with small awards (aka the money you receive once you’ve received your scholarship!) and apply to ones with big awards; putting as many irons as possible into the fire will increase your chance of both getting the scholarships in the first place, and being able to fully pay for college, which is the aim here!

So you’ve found a scholarship or two, now what?

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3. Dig into that Network!

Networking is a term we all dread hearing, but it’s crucial to the scholarship process. Let your employers, both past and present, coaches, family, and even friends know that you are actively looking for scholarship opportunities, or found a few scholarships you like and are applying to.

Besides smaller scholarships that your family or friends may be privy to that the Internet doesn’t know about (which is pretty unlikely these days), letting folks in your network know about your scholarship hunt serves two purposes:

  • It impresses them, letting them know you prize education and moving up in your career or livelihood.
  • It prepares them to potentially write a letter of recommendation (more on that to come!) on your behalf or to offer sound advice and feedback on your goals.
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4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Letters of Recommendation!

Many scholarships will ask for a letter of recommendation. Don’t panic about this! Many of your teachers and employers are probably used to writing letters of rec and would be more than happy to lend a hand aiding your education efforts.

Set clear expectations with them as to the content of the letter you want. Provide them with links to the scholarship and with any and all information they may need to write you the best letter they can. This includes cover letters and resumes (but those will have to wait for their own blogs!).

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5. Remember the Deadlines!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done my research and located an opportunity, be that a scholarship or just a restaurant I’d like to try, only to arrive and find I missed the application deadline or discovered the restaurant was closed for the day.

It’s vital that you calendarize (a term I didn’t invent but would like to claim credit for) and create reminders for yourself, and maybe others. Some scholarships will require letters of recommendation and references (see my previous tip!); it’s important that you continue to check in with whomever you’ve asked to write your letter (whether that’s a teacher, an employer, or someone else entirely).

Make a to-do list, or mark your calendar, with deadlines and dates, that way you’ll never forget to submit an essay or provide a form.

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6. Essays are Your Friend (Despite What You Might Think)!

I know what you’re thinking: in what possible universe is an essay my friend? Well, because everyone is thinking the same thing, scholarships with essays or general requirements have fewer applicants. Every scholarship will have slightly different requirements.

Some might only require test scores and references; others might require essays and a project of some sort. If you’re willing to do the extra work (like an itty bitty friendly essay) you increase the odds of successfully acquiring a scholarship. According to a 2016 article, “scholarships with essays over 1,000 words often have fewer than 500 applicants.” I like those odds!

For those of you cursing me out over the agony of so much wordsmith-ing, remember that you can usually reuse or recycle applicable parts from your essays for other scholarships. Just be certain to follow the prompt and check any specific guidelines.

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7. Last, but not least, Tune Up Your Interview Skills!

Again, many scholarships won’t require interviews. But there will be some that do. Don’t let this turn you off from applying! The scholarships that require interviews probably have fewer applicants or they offer larger monetary awards. I can’t stress enough how imperative it is that you do all the research and prep going into your interview. Be ready to answer questions about yourself and your background, your failures, successes, interests, and aspirations.

Here’s just a taste: “When was a time you felt overwhelmed at work or school and what did you to do to address that?”

This is a classic interview question that can trip you up if you’re not ready for it. The same rule that applies to emergencies (be that earthquake, tornado, hurricane, or zombie apocalypse) also applies to interviews: preparation, preparation, preparation!

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Final Thoughts

Okay, okay. I know that was a lot. But you made it through, no sweat! I’ll offer one last piece of bonus advice, free of charge. This seems like a lot of information and a lot of work, but break each tip down into its component parts and you’ll find it’s actually quite manageable. The trick is deep breaths, staying calm, and knowing that at the end of this tunnel sits the possibility of paying for some, or all, of your college education. In any case, best of luck!

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