Local Scholarships: Finding and Winning Them

local scholarshipMost high school seniors dream of going to college and furthering their educations. This is a noble goal, and a college education is needed in a plethora of today’s career fields. However, going to college remains an expensive proposition. A college’s “sticker price” is made up of tuition, room and board, textbooks, meal plans, and other factors. For example, attending a small private school is usually more expensive than attending a public state university. According to the College Board, a “moderate” college budget for the 2015-16 academic year averaged $24,061 for an in-state public university. Private colleges averaged $47,831 for four years.

Few families have the income to support these costs, so many prospective students must rely on scholarships to offset financial expectations. These pupils often struggle to find the right compensation for them; once they discover a scholarship they want, winning it can be the most daunting task of all. Additionally, the last two years of high school are academically, athletically, and socially stressful. Many scholars put off applying for scholarships or don’t pursue them at all. Those who don’t apply, though, are missing some fantastic opportunities for financial help and personal growth.

If you’re a prospective college student in need of scholarships, you should apply early and often to a variety of awards and programs. The tips outlined here will help you find the right ones for you and increase your chances of winning them.

Start Locally

Your hometown is usually the best place to start looking for scholarships. Almost every location, from large cities to small towns, has some awards available. Many of these come through local merchants, organizations such as Book and Plate or Lyons Clubs, newspapers, and community portals. Labor unions are a good example of an organization not to overlook when scholarship searching. Here’s several union scholarships to take a look at:

Local awards are often small; some are only about $200. Many students ignore these, assuming they aren’t worth the time and effort it takes to apply. Small amounts add up. Two $500 scholarships reduce your chosen college’s sticker price by $1,000, which can make a dent in one year of tuition. Additionally, some local awards are given every year, so once you win the initial figure, you’ll continue receiving it throughout your college career. For example, the Jennifer L. Duke scholarship, available in North Carolina, is counted toward winners’ tuition during all four university years.

Applying for local scholarships also enhances your connection with your hometown and the people in it. Local merchants, reporters, and other community members want to see their students succeed. They also want positive feedback and publicity for their businesses. Winning a local scholarship helps you maintain a long-term connection with the people and enterprises who bestowed it on you. Many scholars are invited to banquets and similar events to speak on their experiences and show appreciation to donors. Over time, these interactions can lead to better chances in the job market as well as career advancement opportunities.

A final advantage to small, local scholarships is that they target narrower student groups. This might seem like a disadvantage, but overall, narrower targeting makes scholarships easier to win than they would be in statewide or national contests.

Scholarships that focus on smaller populations also have a stronger connection to their location. For instance, you might be a California student growing up at or near Camp Pendleton or the Presidio. A parent or grandparent might be active duty military or a veteran. Applying for a scholarship aimed at military family members communicates your appreciation for the armed services. It also lets college admissions boards know you have a personal, unique connection to your area as well as experiences that may serve you well in a university environment.

Scholarships Should Reflect Your Strengths

Many students apply for scholarships without a particular interest in them. This may seem like a logical choice; most undergraduates naturally conclude that the more money they have, the lighter their financial burdens will be. This is true on the surface, but pursuing a scholarship just because it’s available is a mistake.

Applying for those you have no interest in makes the process long and arduous. As a result, you’re not likely to put in your best effort. In addition, applying for random scholarships often affects your confidence. If you lose several contests, you may find it more difficult to keep trying. Burnout is a real concern, especially since high school demands are significant.

Rather than applying for hundreds of random scholarships, seek out those that emphasize your strengths and interests. If you’re an excellent English student, for instance, find scholarships that require essays on deep or multifaceted topics. If you prefer science and math, seek out science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) awards.

Remember that not all scholarships are based on grades and academic interests. College admissions boards want well-rounded students who have meaningful experiences outside the classroom. If you volunteer at an animal shelter, tutoring center, or nursing home, look for remunerations that reflect dedication to community service. For example, athletes should seek out scholarships with sports-friendly application questions and essay topics.

Dig Deep to Win

Most of the time, students don’t want to spend hours or days on scholarship applications. While this is understandable, it often leads to missed opportunities and larger awards. Research shows that students are less likely to apply for scholarships requiring one essay of 1,000 words or more, multiple essays, or long applications. These scholarships may take time and effort, but applying for them is well worth it. The competition pool is significantly smaller; 50,000 students may apply for a scholarship that requires little to no work, but only 10,000 may apply for one that requires multiple essays or similar tasks.

If a scholarship seems daunting, ask for help. Teachers, counselors, and other school personnel are eager to get students to college. Ask them for assistance editing your application, finding recommendations, or brainstorming essay topics. College essays may look intimidating, but many of them ask students to reflect on personal experience and growth.

Even if you don’t think you’ve done anything worth writing about, you probably have much more material than you realize. Additionally, some junior and senior English teachers assign mock college essays for classwork or homework. If yours doesn’t, ask if you can write one for extra credit or come to an after-school session for practice.

Submit Polished Work

Scholarship review boards expect applicants to be intelligent, diligent, dedicated students. If they receive an illegible application or an essay full of grammatical and spelling errors, they’ll throw it away. Always submit neat, grammatically clean work; if this is a struggle for you, ask an English teacher for help with your essay. Additionally, don’t rely solely on your computer’s spelling and grammar checker. Those programs often miss errors or indicate issues where none exist. They can also be notoriously unreliable if you speak English as a second language or have a learning disability like dyslexia.

Additionally, always read the scholarship guidelines – and do so more than once. Plenty of students lose their chance at awards because they missed some small detail in the rules or a key element of an essay topic. Once you’ve double-checked the guidelines, ask another person (like a teacher or counselor) to review them with you. Ask him or her about anything that isn’t clear; never start an application process thinking you know what reviewers want only to find out they were looking for something different.

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