If you’re a freshman or sophomore in high school, you might think you don’t need to worry about college tuition right now because you have a ton of time before you graduate. But graduation will be here before you know it, and college can be super expensive. You don’t want to walk across the stage in your cap and gown before you make a plan to pay for college—that’s how you get stuck with student loans. If you start thinking about college now, you can pay for college like I did—with scholarships!
When you hear “scholarships,” you might think those are just for extremely lucky and blessed people. Or you might immediately feel overwhelmed because you have no idea where to start or what to look for. Finding (and winning) scholarships takes time and effort, but everyone—including you—has a shot at winning scholarships. The most common mistakes I see students make are either that they focus too much on big national scholarships that have a lot of competition, or they don’t apply to enough scholarships. That’s why you want to frame your search with a proven method of applying for scholarships: cast wide and go deep.
This tactic can help you get scholarships that you might not otherwise win if you were to only apply for the most well-known ones. It also means if you miss out on one scholarship, you still have others to take its place. The more scholarships you apply to, the more chances you have of being selected for one. So cast wide and apply for several scholarships to increase the odds of success.
Then, once you start looking for scholarships, you’ll realize there are so many different opportunities out there. There are scholarship programs that receive more than 100,000 applicants each year because they have very few restrictions on who can apply. But there are also some scholarship programs that really limit who can apply. Both can turn into cash for college if you’re the right candidate. So go deep in your exploration of the different types available.
Now, when you apply for a scholarship, you’re essentially selling yourself on a piece of paper. But it’s important to remember that just like you’re looking for scholarships that are perfect for you, the people awarding the scholarships are looking for the perfect recipients for their award. One scholarship committee could be completely blown away with your application, while another could pass over the exact same application. But don’t let that hold you back. Keep looking and applying.
Thousands of scholarships are given out each year. Since you can’t apply for them all, it’s important to find the ones that are most relevant to you and your background and experience. It’s better to put your strongest effort into a few scholarships that fit you well than to waste weak efforts on numerous awards that you know you’re not a good candidate for.
Reflect on who you are and what you want. Determine your college goals, then go after the scholarships that make the most sense for you. These scholarships are the best way to invest in your future, and they’re the ones you should spend most of your time and energy on!
After winning $500K in scholarships and graduating from her dream school with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, Kristina Ellis set out to help students create their own plan to earn a debt-free education. She’s the bestselling author of Confessions of a Scholarship Winner and How to Graduate Debt-Free. She is a featured expert in the 2021 documentary Borrowed Future: How Student Loans Are Killing the American Dream. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as Fox & Friends, The Katie Couric Show, CBN, USA Today, Reuters, Seventeen, and Money. As a Ramsey Personality, Kristina helps thousands of families nationwide navigate the complex waters of college finance and graduate debt-free.