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Avoid 7 Big Scholarship Mistakes

Scholarships top everyone's 'how to pay for' college wish list.  It's a no-brainer why: As long as you meet the criteria, you never have to pay the money back. But making any of these common mistakes when applying for scholarships can hurt your chances of actually landing these highly sought awards.

1. Worrying too much about scholarship amounts

It’s tempting to only apply for scholarships with dollar values greater than $10,000. However, if you don’t qualify, it doesn’t matter what the scholarship amount is. Talk to your high school counselor about the scholarships you’re more likely to win. Remember, ten $1,000 scholarships also add up to $10,000. Plus, big-dollar scholarships are likely to attract more applicants, making them harder to win even if you're an ideal candidate.

2. Missing a deadline

The biggest mistake you can make when applying for a scholarship is missing the deadline, but there's more to it than just submitting your application on time. Make sure you also provide transcripts and letters of recommendation punctually. Give each person writing you a letter at least two weeks to turn it around, and make sure they get it to you at least a few days before it’s actually due.

3. Not talking to your high school guidance counselor

Everyone needs a scholarship coach. Luckily, you likely have a free one at your high school. Ask your guidance counselor to help you develop a scholarship strategy. You don't have to wait until your senior year, either. It's never too early to begin thinking about paying for college. Some people start their scholarship search in elementary school!

4. Falling for scholarship scams

You may get so-called scholarship e-mails asking you to send an application/processing fees, social security numbers, or bank account information. These are often scams to steal your personal information. Don’t fall for them. Always check with your high school guidance counselor or other credible source to see if a scholarship is legit. (And be careful what links you click on within their emails. They may not be safe.)

5. Applying for scholarships at the expense of grades

Don't let your grades slip because you’re too busy filling out scholarship applications — you could end up losing out on college admission altogether. Here's a good way to keep your scholarship search from becoming ridiculously time-consuming: Dedicate a specific amount of time (on a regular basis) to the process. Even two focused hours each week researching and applying for scholarships can go a long way.

6. Not looking at local scholarships

Your local network contains a bunch of scholarships you may not know about: A student’s part-time job, a parent's employer, or a small local non-profit may offer scholarships. Even better: These scholarships appeal to smaller groups of people, so you have less competition. Talk to the HR departments at your employer and have your parents do the same.

7. Not reading the application carefully

The application should tell you specifics: How long an essay should be, what criteria applicants need to meet, when the deadline is, etc. If you don’t read the information, you may fill out the information wrong, forget supporting documents, or waste time applying for scholarships you don’t qualify for. Reading the requirements on applications only takes a few minutes, but it can save you hours of wasted effort working with the wrong information. 

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