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More Scholarships Than Ever Before: Focus on Scholarships Targeting Your Skills and Demographic

The word “scholarship” brings to mind many things. Basically it’s money to pay for school. More specifically, it’s free money that someone gives you to go to school. Who gives away money to go to school and who is receiving it?

The answer to that is, more people than ever before! There are more scholarship opportunities than you can probably imagine. And there are more people are going to school and need money than ever before. The cost of education continues to increase and so does the demand for scholarship funds.

Who Gets Scholarships?

According to the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), over 70% of the scholarship recipients are students at four-year colleges. Most of the recipients were full-time students. The amount of the scholarship awards have also increased over the past ten years. While there are more people competing for scholarships, there are also more scholarship dollars in the pool.

In this competitive arena, who gets the scholarships? There are some scholarships that are “easy” to apply for, which means you complete an application and send it in. But the majority of scholarships awarded are based on a number of criteria:
  • The applicant’s abilities and skills
  • The applicant’s participation in specific activities
  • The applicant’s membership in a specific demographic
Types of Scholarships

Scholarships by Grade Level

As mentioned above, there are numerous scholarship types available. The majority of them can be easily found with some time doing Internet searches. Some will need a little “insider” help.

The majority of scholarships are oriented to the person just starting college, the new freshmen. So the high school student just getting ready for their college education has the most scholarship opportunities available to them. There are still a number of scholarships available to the upperclassman so they shouldn’t slow down looking for college funds.

There are less scholarships available for graduate students. These tend to be more targeted to a particular field of study or work. But by then you will have developed a focus. Your skills are beginning to orient toward that field so you will be competing with similar applicants for those funds.

Scholarships by Major

If you know what your field of focus will be when you enter college, then you can look at the major-specific scholarships. These generally come as a result of a current need in the market or because of an organizational interest.

For example, if there is a current need for nurses or teachers, then there will be more scholarship funds available for those fields. Environmental fields, math and engineering, healthcare and education are all areas where there are numerous scholarships available.

Just because you’re field is not “in” right now doesn't mean the funds aren’t out there. Likely they are just less publicized. You may have to search a little longer and visit with different groups and organizations, but you can find funds for many college interests. If they teach something in college, there will probably be a group that sponsors a scholarship for it.

Scholarships for Athletes

Sports scholarships are a little different in that they often come directly from the college. You don’t have to be an all-star to apply for a sports scholarship. In turn for participating in a specific sport at the college, you can compete for a scholarship. You will still have to show some ability because the college wants to see that you could potentially become an all-star player for the school.

If the sport is something you enjoy casually then you may have the best chance looking at local clubs for scholarship opportunities. These groups will sponsor small scholarships for you to promote their favorite sport at the college. And they look at several criteria, like need and community participation, rather than just your performance in the sport.

Scholarships by State

Colleges receive a lot of funding from the state in which they are located and that is a great source of scholarship money. If you are a resident of that state and will be attending a state college, it may be your first and primary source of funding. Especially if you plan to stay and work in the state after you graduate.

A big advantage for you will be if you are a resident, plan to attend a state college or university and work in the state in a needed area once you graduate. This sets off all of the right flags in a state scholarship application.

Scholarships by Membership

Besides the categories already mentioned, the odds are that something that makes you unique will have a scholarship associated with it. These will require more research because they may not be widely publicized. There will also be fewer people applying for these funds so the competition is less. There may be additional criteria to help the sponsoring group determine the awards.

These scholarships are available for a wide variety of unique characteristics including:
  • Having a specific illness
  • Having a specific disability
  • Being a specific minority
  • Being a specific gender
  • Belonging to a specific religion
Organizations give out these scholarships to people entering college as a way to give visibility to the particular characteristic.

Scholarships by Skill

These scholarships are somewhat merit-based and are given to students who show potential in specific areas. These skills may not have to relate to the focus you have while in school. If you are a writer, poet, visual artist or musician, math whiz, animal handler or gardener, you can apply for one of these scholarships. As with sports scholarships, you may not need to be an all-star in that field, But you do need to display that you will continue to promote that skill throughout your college career to qualify for the award.

Applying for Scholarships

Start this process by getting together the following list of items:
  • Your current transcript
  • All standardized test scores
  • Any financial aid forms like your FASFA
  • Copies or your and your parent’s tax returns
  • Any letters of recommendation
Begin your search for scholarships starting with the most general ones, such as by grade level and state, then move to the more unique ones. Create a folder for each scholarship to store copies of every document you can find about that scholarship. Keep copies of everything, including the instructions, just in case you missed something in the application process.

Make sure you follow the instructions precisely. Any deviation from the instructions can be used as means to remove you from consideration for that scholarship. No matter what the scholarship basis is, you are competing with a number of other people so don’t give the sponsors any reason to not consider you.

Apply early, do not wait until the last moment. Your best chance of competing for a scholarship is by getting your applications in early and having them be complete and accurate.

There is no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for. Continue to apply for them up until the start of your school year. Apply for all that you can qualify for. The more you apply for, the better are your chances of having a pool of funds for your college education.

Many students apply for the top half dozen scholarships and ignore the smaller, specialized ones. Do your research, get into the habit of applying for one or two new scholarships every day. Your effort will be rewarded by being the recipient of more scholarship funds, giving you peace of mind as you start your college adventure.


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