The Best Scholarship Application Tips from Students, Experts + Insiders - Scholarship America

The Best Scholarship Application Tips from Students, Experts + Insiders

Scholarships  |  10 minute read

Get tips and tricks from students and pros alike on how to be as efficient as possible during the scholarship application process.

Aspiring college students are in the middle of one of the busiest seasons of their lives; applying to schools, working through tough course loads, and transitioning from high schoolers to young adults. It’s a lot. And there’s no time to waste for those looking to find ways to help pay for their education.

When every deadline and every dollar counts, it’s critical to be as efficient and laser-focused as possible during the scholarship application process. Maximizing your effort and knowing where to focus can help increase your odds of receiving awards, which is the whole point! In this piece we’re sharing our top tips for students to work smarter, not harder at searching for and applying to scholarships.

Tips for Getting Ready + Hyping Yourself Up

Half the battle of applying to scholarships is completing the necessary prep work, committing to the process, and getting yourself hyped up. We know it’s more fun to do…NOT that…but having a strong mindset will get you through the sticky parts.

Common Pitfall: Having sporadic bursts of energy and giving up too quickly. If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a million times. Students start off with the best of intentions, making to-do lists and spreadsheets, but the research and effort gets overwhelming and their energy piddles out.

Solution: Find an accountability partner. Loop in a friend who could also use some scholarship assistance to create shared accountability for this new side quest. Think of it like a study buddy or gym buddy; when you have someone to help keep you on-track, it’s easier to stay motivated and harder to flake. Not sure who to ask? There’s probably someone sitting 10 feet away from you right now who could use a scholarship too, so go ahead and ask them. Or if just reading that made you break out in hives, ask someone from an online community, like Reddit. So many students need extra financial support and are in the same boat as you.

Advice from a Student: Try to keep your eyes on the prize. Literally. While finding and applying to scholarships might be a lot of work in the short-term, earning scholarship dollars will reduce a ton of pressure later in your educational journey. Stick with it!

“It’s much easier to apply for scholarships than working minimum wage; I’ve done both. Just keep applying for scholarships and don’t, don’t give up if you’re not getting anything.” – Angel

Advice from a Scholarship Pro: Set up a support system and divide your to-dos into smaller, more manageable steps to get you through the long-haul. It’s hard to stay motivated when there’s a delayed payoff, so find ways to stay the course and not get burnt out or discouraged. You got this.

Not sure when or how to start your scholarship search? Here’s a helpful breakdown by year in high school:

1 year before: search early and often, track dates, schedule time to work on applications, and give notice to recommenders.
2 years before: create a resume, look for future scholarships, select college applications, draft essays on common topics.
3 years before: record activities you participate or have participated in and explore potential  job fields and careers.

Other Reminders + Ideas:

  • Set micro-deadlines for various steps in the process. If you don’t adequately prepare, it’ll take you longer to finish your applications, so break down your big tasks into smaller to-dos. That way you’ll stay ahead of the game and avoid a breakdown the night before a deadline.
  • Plan ahead for pieces of the application that require extra time or assistance. Things like submitting your official transcript, test scores, and letters of recommendation will take more time to assemble, so get going on those tasks early. When asking recommenders to write you a letter, be sure to provide them with key information about yourself and directions for submission.
  • Learn how to quickly differentiate between different types of scholarships. From need-based scholarships to industry-specific ones, there are thousands of opportunities out there. The more familiar you become in reading calls for applications, the faster you can sift through the opportunities and determine which might be worth pursuing.
  • Take rejections in stride. If you don’t receive a scholarship, try not to take it personally. While it can certainly feel disheartening, keep trying! There are so many opportunities out there and it only takes earning one to make a difference.

Quick Tip

Remember what you’re doing this for and why. When you feel overwhelmed (which you inevitably will), try to remember what this is all for: minimizing future financial stress so you can focus on pursuing your education, passions and career. Don’t get discouraged. You can do this!

Tips for Optimizing Your Scholarship Search

The good news? There are 1.7 million private scholarships awarded every year, totaling more than $7 billion. This means there are plenty of awards that could be a good fit for you. The bad news? With so many scholarship options, it can be hard sifting through them all to find the most relevant opportunities.

Common Pitfall: Trying to apply to ALL the scholarships. There are nearly two million scholarship opportunities out there, and there’s no way to apply to them all. That’s why being selective and applying to those that align best with your specific lived experiences, ambitions, strengths, and interests can help you stay as efficient and focused as possible.

Solution: Create your own unique scholarship strategy. Not all scholarship opportunities (and applications) are created equal. Some offer huge paydays, but are very competitive. Others may not cover your whole tuition, but also may not have very many applicants. What’s most important is deciding which opportunities are best suited to your unique story, strengths and school(s) of choice. And remember; it’s better to apply to 10 scholarships that align with your specific strengths and situation vs applying to 100 random, not-really-for-you scholarships.

To make the best use of your time, try asking yourself these questions: 

  • What makes me, me? What is unique or cool about me and my educational journey and future career goals?
  • Where do I shine? What are my strengths? Is it my academic record, extracurriculars, intended major, community service, family life or social justice work?
  • Do I qualify for need-based scholarships or merit-based scholarships?
  • Would I rather spend time pursuing national scholarships that may be more competitive (but more lucrative)? Or would I rather apply to a higher number of more local or niche scholarships that could have a smaller pool of applicants?

Advice from a Student: Once you find a solid scholarship opportunity, look deeper into that source to see if you can find more opportunities from the same or similar place. Once you create a profile on the Scholarship America Hub, you will see other scholarships that may be a good fit for you. So, follow that rabbit hole!

“It’s better to just ask questions, even though you might not have the little things figured out. Looking back, it’s really something that you can figure out with the help of others very easily. So just don’t don’t hesitate to ask questions.” – Angel 

Advice from a Scholarship Pro: Before you spend too much time on an application, it’s important to understand the eligibility requirements, timeline, and other criteria. Scholarship America works with small businesses, large corporations, foundations, trade associations, and nonprofits to create unique opportunities; so each scholarship has different selection criteria, eligibility requirements, deadlines, and more.

If you have any questions about a specific application, please click the “Contact Us” link at the bottom of the webpage. You can then send your question or message through the form. Our customer service support team is dedicated to helping you resolve issues and gain clarity. Plus, they have an average response rate of replying in 38 minutes during average business hours.

Other Reminders + Ideas:

  • If available, use filters to narrow your options. Select everything applicable to your background, interests and passions, even if they seem niche. Try using your favorite activities as keywords in your search, as well.
  • Read the scholarship directions thoroughly. Not following directions could disqualify your application, so make sure you are submitting the right pieces of information by the posted deadlines. 
  • Expand your search. If you’re not finding enough opportunities that align with your specific situation, here are other places to look for scholarships:
    • Your local school district or high school
    • You or your parents’ employer(s) and/or any membership organizations that you or they are affiliated with (examples: Kiwanis, American Legion, Masons, other clubs)
    • Your prospective colleges; the colleges you are applying to often list internal and community scholarships
    • Search engines like, and the scholly app may list other relevant scholarship opportunities
    • Social media hashtags and scholarship accounts can also be a great way to find new opportunities

Quick Tip

Make technology your friend. There are tons of ways to leverage the power of technology to help you stay organized and focused, like:

  • Creating folders and saving links to specific applications in your browser or on your computer
  • Setting deadline reminders and calendar alerts
  • Turning off access to your phone or other apps if/when you need to focus
  • Using project management software if that works for you (some examples are Trello,, Asana, Basecamp)
  • Using Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor to “read” through your essays and check for mistakes

Tips for Applying to Scholarships

Ok, phew. You’ve narrowed down the scholarships you’re applying for and have all your documents together. Now how do you keep working as efficiently as possible once you start clicking “submit?”

Common Pitfall: Doing lots of double work, getting disorganized, missing deadlines, and feeling overwhelmed.

Solution: Keep things simple: maintain one primary Google Doc or spreadsheet that holds all of your info and answers to key questions. Then copy/paste as needed. Make sure it’s available on your phone and on your computer, so you can quickly add notes or ideas if/when inspiration strikes. Having trouble getting started? There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Find and recycle from your previous essays or creative work from your college applications, classes or even journal entries or blog posts. And if you’re an early planner, you can look at the short-form questions Scholarship America asks you to submit, right here.

Advice from a Student: Starting a relationship with your college counselor might feel awkward at first, but it can really pay off. They offer a lot of great advice, and you can ask them to look through your essays or other materials. They are also really plugged into scholarship opportunities, so pay close attention to communications they send to your class or ask them about specific opportunities that might suit you. 

Advice from a Scholarship Pro: Look for credible, trustworthy places where you can create one account and apply for multiple scholarships, like the Scholarship America Hub. Set up your account in advance. It takes 5 minutes to complete your profile, and then you’ll be ready to apply to other programs as they open up.

“As students go through the scholarship process, having a readily available summary of all their responses, education information, and total financial picture is incredibly valuable. Registering for The Scholarship America Hub helps applicants and their families reduce redundancies and use their time as efficiently as possible.” – Kalwis Lo, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Scholarship America

Other Reminders + Ideas:

  • Tell your story. Your scholarship application needs to be an authentic portrait of yourself. Don’t stress if you haven’t picked a major or career path yet; just share your intentions and interests. Scholarship providers want to know your story, so showcase your passions and the important events in your life. It’s not just about academics.
  • Keep your financial information and FAFSA or CSS Profile info readily accessible, especially for need-based scholarships. Again, save these documents in one folder or Google Drive so you can easily find it and upload it to the relevant applications.
  • In essays, do a find/replace for all names of the scholarship. We see lots of sloppy mistakes that happen when students are applying to too many scholarships, too quickly. Make sure you do a double and triple check for names of the scholarships or other specifics that might change based on the opportunity (try using ctrl + f on your keyboard).

Quick Tip

Try to avoid perfectionism. Finished is better than imperfect/incomplete. You can’t receive scholarship dollars if you never apply! 

Find a scholarship opportunity that fits you.

When you browse and find one, create a profile on the Scholarship America Hub and find similar awards that may work for you.

Recommended Reading: More Resources Like This

Scholarship Application Checklist

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Before you start applying to scholarships, download our application checklist to make sure you’ve got all the information and documentation you’ll need to complete the process.

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Scholarship Quick Start Guide

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If you’re new to scholarships, check out this infographic for a brief overview of key information from where to find scholarships to application tips.

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