20 Scholarship Tips to Stand Out From the Pack

If you've been accepted into college, you may quickly realize the challenge of paying for tuition and other expenses. College costs are steadily increasing, and in 2017, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 85 percent of college students received some form of financial aid. This statistic reveals the ongoing trend of college students needing to seek out external sources of funding to pay for their collegiate careers. A great way to achieve this is through scholarships, but with so many people applying, how can you increase your chances of being selected? Standing out from the pack in scholarship applications can be difficult. Follow these tips to give yourself the best chance to lower your college costs.

1. Get a head start

Many students start searching for scholarships in their junior year of high school, but there's no reason why you couldn't start sooner. Getting a head start gives you more opportunities to apply for annual scholarships and improve your application skills. Once you understand the attributes and accomplishments you need to win a scholarship, you can improve your resume.

2. Make a schedule

Keeping track of all the deadlines can be confusing, so help yourself out and keep up with a schedule of application deadlines. Stay organized and avoid the frustration of just barely missing a key due date.

3. Learn how to brag

Scholarship applications allow you to brag about your accomplishments, but you must know how to do it correctly. Students often feel uncomfortable bragging about themselves, or they don't even know what to write about. Figure out the strengths you want to highlight and offer concrete proof. Talk about the teams and clubs you were involved in and how you made a difference. There's a fine line between emphasizing and exaggerating - play up your strengths but keep it authentic.

4. Take the PSAT, SAT, and ACT

To be eligible for certain scholarships, like the National Merit Scholarship, you must simply take the PSAT through your high school and meet certain requirements. In addition, many scholarship applications will ask for one, if not both, of your test scores. Be prepared and take these tests in advance to broaden your opportunities. You may find that you score better on one than the other. Use that to your advantage and choose which score to highlight. If you're getting ready to take one of these tests, take advantage of free college test prep materials offered by the College Foundation of North Carolina.

5. Search for local scholarships

To start, ask your teachers and school counselors. Narrow your search to your specific region. National scholarships receive thousands of applications, so focusing on North Carolina-specific and local scholarships could improve your chances and help you stand out. CFNC has a wonderful scholarship search tool as well!

6. Use your college's resources

Aside from external scholarships, look for scholarships offered by your college. Many are offered for students with specific majors and are not need-based. You may be surprised to learn how much you could receive by just taking the time to apply!

7. Don't shy away from difficult applications

Often scholarships with the most tedious applications are going to receive fewer applicants. Many students simply won't put in the work to fill them out. If you set time aside and power through their essays and questionnaires, you increase your chances of winning because other students just gave up.

8. Consider smaller scholarships

The scholarships that offer the most money are often going to be the most competitive. What you may not realize is that you could end up paying for your education by applying for lots of smaller-sum scholarships. There's no limit to how many you can apply for, so don't overlook the scholarships with smaller awards.

9. Tell a story

In your essay, you'll want to create a compelling narrative about yourself and make the person reading care about you and your story. Show how you've grown as a person and highlight your unique skills and passions. This element of your scholarship application will require creativity, so start thinking about an impactful story to tell about your background or dreams.

10. Avoid using quotes and clichés

The purpose of an essay prompt is to give the reader a feel for your unique attributes, struggles, and successes. This is your opportunity to explain what makes you stand out, so stay original and authentic. Relying on well-worn quotes and platitudes can often backfire because they're not unique to you and your story!

11. Don't reuse essays

Applications can be time-consuming, but don't try to cut corners by copy-and-pasting an existing essay. Scholarship reviewers can often tell when you've written one generic essay and simply swapped in the appropriate school name. This can come across as lazy and could easily disqualify you from receiving the scholarship.

12. Always proofread your work

It may be easy to get carried away and submit your essay right after finishing it, but don't! Scholarship committees are looking for writing that is thorough and concise. Always go through and reread your work. Look for awkward sentences or things that might not make sense. Spelling and grammar mistakes could be a death sentence. It's a good idea to have someone proofread your writing to get a more objective view on necessary revisions.

13. Submit ahead of the deadline

It's never a good idea to wait until the last minute. Procrastinating could set you up for failure if there's a problem with their website or with your computer. Many scholarships also operate on a rolling deadline, so it works to your benefit to get your name in early.

14. Use your network

It's easy to feel stuck when working on an essay. If you're struggling with a prompt, try asking friends and family if they can recall a time where you were helpful or showed leadership. Small things that you forgot may have made a lasting impression.

15. Review your online presence

If you're being considered to receive a scholarship, there's a good chance they'll conduct some sort of background check on you. Remove social media posts with profanity and delete pictures that could be embarrassing. This is good practice for the real world as employers will also look to weed out applicants with an unsavory online presence.

16. Get good recommendation letters

Getting someone else's stamp of approval can go a long way in winning over a scholarship reviewer. A good letter of recommendation can come from anywhere. Think of past coaches, teachers, or club leaders and ask them if they'd be willing to write you a formal endorsement. Make sure to ask far enough in advance so they have enough time to write something meaningful.

17. Apply for similar scholarships

If you find a scholarship you feel suits you well, search for other scholarships looking for similar criteria. Often, there are multiple scholarships looking for students with the same attributes and accomplishments. Remember not to reuse your essays, and be sure to think about who will be reviewing your application when completing all parts of it.

18. Take advantage of scholarship matching tools

Use the internet to your advantage and make use of some of the online resources intended to help students find compatible scholarships. Websites like Scholly, Fastweb, and Scholarships.com are designed to help find students the funding they need to pay for their college expenses. In addition, CFNC's scholarship search tool can help you find those North Carolina scholarships that aren't listed anywhere else!

19. Attend a scholarship event

To really beef up your applications, consider attending a scholarship workshop or webinar. Talk to teachers and guidance counselors about opportunities to improve your applications and learn what scholarship boards are looking for. The extra knowledge and confidence can set you apart from the crowd and greatly improve your chances of winning some scholarship money.

20. Perseverance is key!

In the end, look at this as a numbers game. You want to apply for as many scholarships as you can because a lot of them will turn you down. Don't get discouraged! Keep applying and working hard, and your efforts will be rewarded. You never know which scholarships you could win, so stay optimistic and apply for as many as possible.