Going to college is exciting! You get to live on your own for the first time, meet new friends, and explore new interests. But, for many, college is also a source of anxiety. Aside from having to develop a new routine in a new area, many students worry about how to pay for college. Getting scholarships can relieve some of that worry. This article outlines how to be a competitive scholarship applicant and it all starts sooner than you might think- freshman year of high school.

As you enter high school:

  • Join clubs! Aside from fostering friendships and looking good on a resume, some clubs offer scholarships to graduating seniors. It is likely you will be a recipient if you give your time to the club; go to a meeting and check it out!
  • As part of the scholarship application process, you will most likely need to submit a reference. Start building relationships with your high school teachers and staff as early as possible.
  • Although it can be grueling and time-consuming to compete with the top students in your class, there are usually more scholarship opportunities for those with high GPAs.

Junior & Senior year:

  • Study hard for the ACT/SAT. Higher scores result in more opportunities for merit-based scholarships.
  • Write a moving admission essay. Writing a standout admissions essay can qualify you for more scholarships. Consider topics that highlight adversity you have overcome. Emphasize what sets you apart and show why the school would be lucky to have you!
  • Ask your guidance counselor about local scholarships. The smaller the pool of applicants, the more likely you are to be the winner! These scholarships are usually lower in value, but every little bit helps! If you put one hour into writing the essay and you are awarded $500, you made $500/hr –that’s amazing!
  • Next, search for scholarships at the state and national level. There are a lot of these, and they are competitive, so narrow down your search for things you are passionate about. Websites like org, collegescholarships.com, and scholarship.com can help you search.

The summer before college:

  • After you have decided on your college, visit their scholarship page through your student portal, and see if you are eligible for any. Scholarships have a variety of deadlines, and many may still be open.
  • File your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The form might say you are not eligible for aid because your, or your guardian’s, income or assets are too high. Fill out the form anyway! The scholarships universities give out usually require that you have filed the FAFSA even if financial need isn’t a criterion of the scholarship.

During college:

  • Apply for your university’s scholarships each semester. As you decide what career you want to pursue, the pool of candidates with your shared interest will shrink. Additionally, many students stop applying after their first semester, so take advantage of your improved odds.
  • Utilize office hours to build a connection with your professors. You will continue to need recommendations for your applications.
  • File your FAFSA every year to remain eligible for scholarship consideration. If the FAFSA estimates your guardians will contribute more to the scholarship than they do, make sure you discuss that in the “additional comments” part of the application. Be sure to express your gratitude for where you are and the opportunities you have been given!

Use the tips above to be a competitive scholarship applicant. Remember, scholarships are given to people who are active in their schools and communities, work hard, and make a positive impression through essays and recommendations. The work you put into achieving scholarships now could pay off for years beyond graduation.