Discover Student Loans
Discover Student Loans

You don’t have to be an athlete or valedictorian to win free money for school.

Free money: It sounds too good to be true. But when it comes to paying for college, there are millions of opportunities and billions of dollars available, reports Scholarships are an ideal way to help fund your education since they don’t have to be paid back. And while you might think that only top athletes and students can win scholarships, there’s something for nearly everyone. With so many scholarships available, you just need to know where to look. Here’s how to maximize your search success.

Start your scholarship prep early

Preparing to get one or more scholarships actually starts as early as your freshman year, since the activities you participate in throughout high school can help make you eligible for different awards. Look for activities, clubs, and teams you can see yourself staying engaged with for four years and can picture yourself eventually having a leadership role in.

Another thing to start freshman year is your “success resume,” a detailed list of your accomplishments and activities. This document, which should include everything from clubs and sports to leadership positions and awards, will be indispensable when it’s time to apply.

Once you hit sophomore year, it’s already time to start researching scholarships (really!). Getting started at this point will give you a better idea of what’s out there and which awards you might want to apply for. By junior year, you can really hit the gas on your search so that you can take advantage of scholarships with early application deadlines.

Some applications will ask for a letter of recommendation; asking teachers and employers to write them is another thing to do as early as possible. You’re likely not the only student asking, and your teachers will be better able to write a glowing letter about you if they’re not also trying to do ten other letters at the same time.

How to find a scholarship that’s right for you

With an overwhelming number of scholarships out there, it’s hard to know how to focus your search. Looking at your success resume is a great first step: The community service activities, clubs, and teams you’ve participated in, as well as academic achievements, can make you eligible for different opportunities.

Also think about your background, as there are scholarships for first generation college students; underrepresented groups; children of military, police, fire department, and other public servants; and others. There are even local and regional scholarships, which may be less competitive than national ones.

As you start your search, ask your high school guidance counselor for help. You can also use databases like the Free Scholarship Search tool from Discover® Student Loans. It asks you about your background, goals, accomplishments, intended studies, and activities, and offers a fast, user-friendly way to generate a list of scholarships that may be a good fit for you. No registration required.

How to organize your scholarship search and applications

With so many scholarships to apply for and varying deadlines and requirements, it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t get organized first. A spreadsheet that includes the name of each scholarship, deadlines, and the required materials for each can be super helpful, as can entering key dates into your calendar.

How to get more scholarship awards

Read the application instructions for each scholarship carefully and make sure you include all the information and materials that are being requested. You don’t want to be disqualified simply for forgetting to answer a question or uploading a document!

Many scholarships will require an essay. This is your place to truly show who you are and shine, so give yourself plenty of time to work on these. Start with a strong, compelling first sentence to “hook” readers in, and make sure to write in your own voice. Don’t forget to spell check, and ask someone else to proofread your essay when you’re done.

Keep applying for scholarships throughout your college journey

Persistence is the name of the game here. New scholarships are constantly being added to databases, and you can often tweak previous application materials to fit new opportunities. And while it’s great to win large scholarships, getting multiple smaller ones can also be helpful, so don’t ignore scholarships with smaller awards. Once you start school, continue looking for upper-class scholarships. You can only win the scholarships you apply for!

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