Ah, senior year - the time has come to sit back, relax and enjoy free reign of the school. There are some over-achievers applying for scholarships and colleges already, but you think they’re wasting their time. After all, scholarships aren’t awarded until spring.
Wake up and smell the coffee - scholarships are awarded all year round! By the time you start applying in April, three-quarters have already been awarded. As early as October, scholarship judges are reading and deciding. It’s a tragedy when someone does not get a higher education because it costs too much, so start working on funding today.
If you apply now, your chance of receiving a scholarship is much greater. Start small. I just about died last year writing essays for huge amounts of money that only go to a few recipients. That time could have been better spent writing essays for the small scholarships that offer money to a number of people. Your chances of winning these are greater and a few hundred dollars here and there really add up, believe me! While I’m sure you are a remarkable and talented individual, so are a lot of others. You have to make yourself stand out.
So what does it take to wow a scholarship panel? It takes more than a mile-long list of activities and credentials, amazing ACT/SAT scores, good grades and astounding referrals. Colleges consider what a student can offer their school and community. I’m sure you’ve heard rumors that colleges want smart kids who are involved in every activity under the sun. I’ll let you in on a little secret that you can only learn from experience - they are looking for you. Intelligent, talented and involved students all have something to offer, but you do, too. Colleges enjoy someone who specializes because it shows that this individual has commitment. Applicants who spent a year in basketball, a semester in pep club and a few years in student council look fickle.
You have to be the one to say what is great about you. While modesty is a great virtue, you have to sell yourself hard. You may feel like an egomaniac, but it’s necessary. Don’t overexaggerate, though, because they can spot a fake. Use every possible thing you have going for you. Talk about hobbies, dreams and goals, people who have influenced you and your experiences. Everyone loves a scholar who rises in the face of adversity, but tell them more than a touching story. Tell them what you’ve learned from your experiences and how that in turn can benefit their school. (Wichita State University, in my case.)
If you can imagine the painstaking work it took for you to plan, write and revise a masterpiece of an essay, imagine how painstaking it is to read thousands of essays just like yours! A scholarship panelist’s job isn’t easy; after a long day of reviewing a never-ending stack of applications, they will be pickier about which ones they spend more time reading. Make your application stand out. No panelist will stop to read a small, fancy font, it’s just too hard. Likewise, they don’t want to read a novel. Keep it concise and powerful.
You may be wondering how to present your activities. Judges like to see a clean, professional-looking resumé so find a format that works best for you. Be sure to include all school and community activities, community service, jobs, skills, awards, recognitions, etc. It would be a good idea to keep one master copy of your resumé in some format that makes it easy to have all of your information in one place. But when it comes time to fill out an application, don’t use the same personal essay and activities list each time. It’s okay to have a template, but customize for each scholarship. Judges can tell if someone has used a generic essay and it shows them that you don’t really care. It also says you’re lazy.
Hopefully, this information will help you get a good start on your scholarship hunting. It may be annoying to start working hard now when all your classmates are having fun, but when it comes to crunch time, you’ll be glad you did it! Remember, start early, make your application stand out, and be organized!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.