Five pro tips for your college scholarship applications

Follow advice from this scholarship expert to help earn more money for college.

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Scholarships are a great way to help pay for college, and unlike loans they are considered “gift aid” since they don’t need to be repaid. But earning scholarship money takes solid research, careful planning, and hard work, particularly on the essays.

Mark Kantrowitz should know: When he was in college a few decades ago, he won so many scholarships that between money from awards and working during the summers, he graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with no debt.

Kantrowitz, now publisher of the college admissions and financial aid website Cappex.com, suggests these tips when applying for college funds.

Tip No. 1: Do not pay to submit scholarship applications

Legitimate organizations give you money rather than collecting it from you. If you’re asked to pay a fee to qualify for a scholarship, it’s probably a scam. “Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about or to apply for scholarships,” says Kantrowitz.

Tip No. 2: Research the scholarship organization before you apply

There’s usually a good reason why an organization is sponsoring a scholarship. Perhaps they’re dedicated to helping students from a particular community or those who have certain family challenges. Read up on each organization to which you apply. “Tailor your application to this purpose, so you are arguing in your answers why you best match their goals,” suggests Kantrowitz.

Tip No. 3: Follow application instructions

Pay close attention to deadlines. If the organization asks you to mail the application, don’t try to email it. And if there is a maximum word count limit, aim to be as close as possible to it, but don’t go over.

“Most scholarship providers receive far more qualified applications than they have funds available, so they sometimes use arbitrary mechanisms to reduce the number of applications they have to review,” notes Kantrowitz. Word counts can be one of these mechanisms.


“Never invest more than a postage stamp to get information about or to apply for scholarships.”


Tip No. 4: Do not reuse the same essay over and over

Scholarship judges can tell if you’ve slightly adapted a previously written essay to meet their requirements. (Some students even accidentally mention the name of the wrong scholarship in their essay — a dead giveaway.) However, it does get easier to write essays after a few applications, and you can reuse some of your wording more than once.

Kantrowitz’s favorite essay-writing suggestion: “Try answering the question out loud while recording yourself. Later, transcribe the recording and organize your thoughts in an outline. This will yield a more powerful essay.” Why does this work? You can talk much more quickly than you can type or write. The slowness of typing or writing can interfere with your flow of thought. Talking aloud can be more effective.

Tip No. 5: Apply for multiple scholarships

“Winning a scholarship is partly a matter of chance, not just skill,” says Kantrowitz. “The more applications you submit, the greater your chances are of winning.”

One way to increase your submission rate is to treat applying for scholarships like a part-time job. Use free periods at school to draft applications. Try to work on at least one scholarship application every weekday and even more on weekends.

Remember: If you spend 200 hours on applications and end up winning $25,000 in scholarships, you’ve earned a tax-free $125 per hour toward your college costs. That’s a pretty good hourly rate!

Looking for scholarships? Find them at Tuition Funding Sources.