Welcome to a new year of classes! Whether you’re a newbie freshman, on your last year of the Van Wilder plan, or even if you’re still in high school, it’s time to saddle up and make this year count. And by “count” I mean “profitable!”
Scholarships are one of the easiest ways to make a lot of money in life. People are always looking for the next big “get rich quick” scheme – but in truth, the easiest way to get your hands on $10,000 is to fill out a form, attach your transcript, and send it away.
But we all know it doesn’t exactly work like that. You’ve got to get your scholarship application to the top of the pile. So, uh, how do you do that?
I’m only gonna touch on this for a tiny moment, because you already know it. The higher your Grade Point Average, the more scholarships you qualify for. So even raising your GPA by a tenth of a point can open doors. End of story.
Scholarship Attack Gear
Get a manila folder and a cheap flash drive. Yep, cheap – it doesn’t have to hold very much, just a few Word documents and some PDFs. Every time you fill out a scholarship application, keep a copy of it in one of these places – preferably both!
Why? Because scholarship applications and essays, well… they get a bit repetitive. And for most of them, you can use previously written essays! So you can just grab something you’ve already written, edit it a bit, and send it on its way. I mean, how many times do you want to write the “I see my ideal career as…” essay? Once.
Get a calendar. It’s better if you use a calendar that you use for other things too, or else you’ll forget to look at it! Write down deadlines. But not real deadlines, use fake ones. Make up a deadline at least a week or two before the scholarship is due.
Why fake deadlines? Because if a scholarship has a lot of qualified applicants, the committee will have to start looking for any little thing to whittle down the pile. “Submitted too close to the deadline” could be the reason your application gets tossed out.
If a scholarship application has lots of parts, break it up into mini deadlines. I once had a scholarship that asked me for everything under the sun: a ton of financial information, two letters of recommendation, four essays… there’s no way you can leave that stuff till the last minute. Start with the letters of recommendation. First of all, you want to make sure you get anything that relies on other people done first – you can’t count on other people to be slaves to your deadline. Secondly, once people have written those letters for you, you’ll feel more pressure to actually finish the application.
Make It a Class Act
Take your weekly class schedule. Find some time in it, maybe a break between classes, that’s at least two hours long. Write in a new class: Scholarship Class. Go to the same place in the library every week, with your manila folder and your flash drive, and spend two hours researching, writing essays, and gathering other stuff you need.
Try not to use your own computer for this if you have a laptop. Using a library computer or one in a lab will limit distractions, and it will make you want to get stuff done so that you can get back to your own stuff.
Some weeks, there will be so many scholarships coming up, that you’ll have to give yourself homework for this class. (March tends to be the time of year when that happens.) So give yourself homework (essays, asking for letters of recommendation, getting transcripts) and give yourself a consequence for not doing the homework on time.
If you have trouble being your own professor of Scholarship Class, find a friend who can take the class with you, without being distracting. Then play professor to each other – ask for updates, assign homework, keep track of each other’s deadlines as well as your own. But again, find someone committed who won’t distract you or skip class!
Letters of Recommendation
Treat every interaction with professors, bosses, and advisors (even club advisors!) as a building block toward a letter of recommendation. I’m not advocating sucking up. And sure, there’s always going to be a few professors/bosses/advisors that you don’t get along with, and are never going to give you a letter of recommendation. But things can change over time, and you should do your best to sparkle when you can. Treat everyone with respect, and make deadlines. If you can’t make a deadline, let them know days ahead of time. It all counts.
Don’t Use the Shotgun Approach… Yet
The Shotgun Approach: Applying for every scholarship under the sun, regardless of your qualifications. If you start out this way, you’ll burn out pretty quickly, and you probably won’t get any of them. Start slow. Pick a few that really match you, that you have a really good shot at getting. Carefully craft the applications and send them off early.
When your manila folder is bursting at the seams and your flash drive is filling up, when you can finish an application in 10 minutes flat, when the registrar knows to have transcripts ready for you before you even show up… start shotgunning it!