How To Win More Scholarships: 6 Tips From Past Winners

By Jon O'Donnell Updated on June 15, 2021

Higher education is expensive, and tuition and other fees continue to increase each year. That's why many students and parents end up taking on significant debt burdens to finance four-year (or more!) college experiences. Scholarships are a funding source that doesn’t need to be repaid. But when there are hundreds or thousands of applicants for each one, how can you increase your chances of winning?

Here are some proven tips on how to apply for, and win, college scholarships.

1. Seek out smaller, less competitive scholarships

Popular, large-scale scholarships tend to be very competitive, so seek out smaller awards and contests that could add up to a lot of college cash. Ask teachers and guidance counselors about subject- or interest-specific scholarships. Talk to church or community leaders about award opportunities. And slow down as you pass school and library bulletin boards, which may be a source of hidden treasures like essay or art contests for scholarships. Then apply for as many as possible. The more you apply for, the more likely you are to land at least some of them. 

2. Tell an original story

Many scholarship applications require an essay. Stand out to scholarship judges by telling an original story about yourself that challenges expectations. “Tell of a time when you acted contrary to what people would expect of your type—nerd, jock, trendsetter. Then tie that action to a lesson you learned and why you want to attend a certain school, pursue a certain degree, or enter a chosen field,” recommends Joshua Wilson, partner at WorthPointe Wealth Management.

3. Strive to stand out

When you write your essay or personal statement, be sure to illustrate how your experience meshes with the organization’s mission or vision. "To win college scholarships, you need to market yourself smartly and use the background information of the organization offering the scholarship. Share exactly why you are the best applicant for their scholarship,” says Monica Matthews, who helped her son win more than $100,000 in college scholarship money.

4. Back up your claims

Even if you submit a stellar essay, personal statement, or outline of accomplishments, many organizations want to see proof that your assertions are true. Do what Schuyler Dunphy, owner of Seattle Tutoring Services, did to pay for his entire fifth year of college with scholarship money: Get great recommendations. “I had developed great relationships with two professors and one employer. I asked them for recommendations that I coupled with my scholarship essays,” he says.

5. Follow directions and proofread pre-submission

Nothing will disqualify you faster than missing pieces from your application or poor spelling and grammar. You’re trying to present your best self through these submissions, so check and double-check your application, essay, and supplemental materials. Then ask a teacher, parent, counselor, or grammatically gifted older sibling to read over everything for grammar, punctuation, flow, and tone.

6. Don't miss the deadline

If you want to win scholarship money for college, adhere to deadlines. If your application is late, you can be locked out of online systems or tossed in the “no” pile—no matter how perfect you are for the award. Use a calendar or planner to keep track of due dates, set email reminders or cell phone alarms —whatever it takes to ensure you’ll be on time. (Pro tip: That means making sure you see the reminder before the actual due date. An alert three hours before you have to submit defeats the purpose.) Creating a checklist for each scholarship application is also a good idea so you don’t forget to send along supplemental materials.

Ready to jump in and start applying?  We have you covered.  As you review these tips, put them into practice by  applying for the $2,000 Nitro College Scholarship.

We hope you found these tips helpful, and best of luck on your scholarship applications! If you find yourself in need of additional financial aid after seeking scholarships and federal loans, compare your options with these recommended private loan lenders.

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Published in: Scholarships

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon is a writer and marketer for Nitro who is passionate about bringing transparency to the student loan process along with providing families with the information needed to make smart financial decisions. He also just recently refinanced his student loans allowing him to pay them off 5 years faster all while saving an additional $152/month. As he continues to pay them off himself, he strives to help others do the same. Jon also has a long history of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and their overall personal finances. In his free time you can find him reading travel blogs and researching destinations around the world in search of his next adventure. Read more by Jon O'Donnell