Once you’ve searched for and found scholarships that your child is eligible for and organized them all in a spreadsheet, it’s time to apply to as many as you possibly can.
I cannot stress this point enough. Winning college scholarships is largely a numbers game; the more you apply for, the more you are likely to win. Moreover, the more scholarships you win, the more likely you are to win others (see Reason 2: Prestige ROI, above).
Most people (including me) that you hear or read about who earned tens—sometimes hundreds—of thousands of dollars in scholarships to graduate college debt-free simply applied for so many more scholarships than everyone else did.
It’s rare for students to win one or two scholarships that will cover all of higher education; there just aren’t very many of those types of scholarships. Rather, the most financially savvy students understand that $1,000 here, $500 there, another $3,000 from another organization, etc., quickly add up and can help pay for the bulk of college expenses.
If this all sounds like it’s going to require massive amounts of work, fear not! Most scholarship materials can be recycled and used across multiple applications. With each completed application, the remaining ones become easier to complete.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of how you should actually apply for scholarships.
Step 1: Understand the scholarship’s mission
I see most students quickly jump to the scholarship application essay prompts to see how many essays they have to write, how long they need to be, and what they need to write about.
The top scholarship earners take a step back and first review the scholarship and scholarship organization’s missions, which can easily be found on scholarship websites and brochures.
By understanding these missions, your child can demonstrate a strong sense of “fit” between them and the type of person the scholarship selection committee is actually looking to fund.
For example, your daughter should write an essay with a different bend if a scholarship’s mission is to fund women in science vs. women who are dedicated to community service.
Moreover, understanding a scholarship’s mission will help you ask recommendation letter writers to discuss specific qualities and accomplishments that fit with the scholarship committee’s goals.
Step 2: Pay careful attention to recommendation letter requirements
Many scholarships will require you to submit between one and three recommendation letters.
Moreover, instructions will typically specify from whom the scholarship committee wants to receive letters. Some will want to see letters from teachers/professors, others from mentors and community leaders, or some combination.
Given that many teachers, professors, mentors, and community leaders are busy people and get asked to write many recommendation letters for college admissions, scholarships, and job applications, it’s important to ask them for letters ahead of time. Additionally, recommendation letter writers who have advance notice usually write stronger letters because they have time to mull over your child’s wonderful qualities and accomplishments.
I encourage your child to request recommendation letters 6-8 weeks in advance. If that isn’t possible, a 4-week notice could also work. Your child should also ask the recommendation letter writers if and when they would like a reminder to submit their letters, and also request to be notified when they’ve submitted their letters.
In addition to giving recommendation letter writers advance notice, it’s important to ask recommendation letter writers to include specific pieces of information about qualities and accomplishments that fit with the scholarship’s mission.
For example, if your son is applying for a scholarship given to students of Jewish descent, he could ask the recommendation letter writer to highlight specific involvement with the Jewish community.
Finally, if the application instructions ask that your recommendation letter writer send their materials via regular mail, I encourage your child to provide the letter writer with a stamped and addressed envelope out of courtesy.
Step 3: Request all transcripts and standardized test scores
I recommend requesting multiple copies of official transcripts and standardized test scores 4-6 weeks prior to the first application deadline. That way, they can easily be included in all applications that will be sent via regular mail.
Online applications are no exception. Some official transcripts and standardized test scores could take weeks before getting mailed out, so it’s best to have them sent out as soon as possible.
Step 4: Write scholarship application essays
Most reputable scholarships will ask your child to submit one—sometimes two—scholarship application essays.
Writing fantastic scholarship essays is critically important because: 1) they factor in very heavily to scholarship decisions, and 2) great scholarships essays can be recycled over and over again with slight modifications for many scholarships.
Writing great scholarship application essays requires a similar approach to writing great college application essays. The best ones accomplish the following:
In any case, here’s a proven, step-by-step approach to helping your child find the right topic to write their scholarship essay about:
1. Revisit the scholarship’s mission
First, your child should review the scholarship’s mission to understand what type of students the scholarship committee is hoping to fund. Do they want to fund current and future leaders? Resilient individuals? People who have a heart for promoting diversity?
By gaining a good grasp of what scholarship committees are looking for, your child can tailor their essays to demonstrate the strong sense of “fit” discussed earlier.
2. Choose which qualities and core values to highlight
Rather than jump into writing about involvement in a particular extracurricular activity, your child should reflect on which of their great qualities and core values they want to convey in their essay.
If your child has a hard time thinking about what makes them unique and wonderful, you could tell them what comes to mind when you think of them. Moreover, you should encourage them to ask their friends, relatives, or mentors. Oftentimes, what your child thinks they’re known for can be very different from why people really enjoy being around them.
Once your child lists 5-10 qualities and core values, it’s time to decide which one or two to focus on. Ideally, one or more items on your list will be an exact or close match to the types of students the scholarship committee is hoping to recruit; your child should choose to convey those.
3. Consider times when those qualities and core values are or have been demonstrated
Suppose your child is interested in conveying one or two of the following qualities in their scholarship essay:
Moreover, suppose the scholarship committee is looking to fund students who want to promote diversity in their local community.
The question then becomes: Has there been a time when your child demonstrated their persistence/sociability/practicality/acceptance/courtesy while promoting diversity in their local community?
Whichever quality the answer is “yes” for, that’s the topic your child should write their essay about.
A quick note on scholarships that don’t require your child to write essays: While it doesn’t hurt to apply to such scholarships, the odds of ever receiving even one of these scholarships is very slim because so many students apply for them. I recommend that your child focuses their efforts on scholarships that require essays.
Step 5: Submit your scholarship applications exactly as instructed
Most scholarship committees prefer to receive applications in particular ways. Some want grades and test scores sent directly from institutions, whereas others want everything to be included in the same envelope.
The same variability applies to how scholarship committees want to receive recommendation letters, whether they want you to write a cover letter, etc.
Bottom line: Follow those instructions very carefully to ensure that your child does not make the wrong first impression when there are thousands of dollars at stake.
Step 6 (Sometimes): Complete the interview process
A few of the most prestigious scholarships also require finalists to interview as part of the application process.
While scholarship interviews can take on many forms, you can offer the following pieces of guidance to your child for all of them:
- You control what scholarship committees learn about you and what you learn about them.
- Prepare for what you can.
- Reduce anxiety about the interview environment.
- Arrive early.
- If possible, visit the interview location beforehand.
- Dress appropriately.
- Males: suit and tie
- Females: pant suit or skirt suit
- Practice answering common questions
- “Why do you feel you’re a good fit for this scholarship?”
- “What will you use this scholarship for?”
- Reduce anxiety about the interview environment.
- Scholarship interviews begin before the meeting and end after it.
- Respond promptly and professionally to all contact efforts.
- Treat everyone you interact with before, on, and after interview day with kindness and respect.
- Administrative staff
- Follow up your interview with a thank you note.
Step 7: Repeat Steps 1-6… over and over again
What to do after receiving a scholarship award
After you’ve finished celebrating with your child and ensuring that they’ve expressed their sincere thanks to the scholarship committee for their generosity, there’s one final thing to do.
But I need to provide some quick background on how colleges use scholarships before I tell you what it is.
When colleges offer your child financial aid, they break things down by listing:
- Sources and amount of grant funding
- Sources and amount of loan funding
- Amount of work study eligibility
Colleges ask to be notified every time your child wins a scholarship. They can then modify their financial aid offer based on the amount of scholarship money your child received.
Unfortunately, some colleges reduce the amount of grant money they offer when your child receives a scholarship—sometimes dollar for dollar—effectively pocketing and negating your child’s scholarship.
Therefore, it’s important that you find out the following two pieces of information soon after your child receives any scholarship:
- Whether your child’s college replaces their grant funding with your child’s scholarship
- Whether the scholarship organization sends the scholarship check directly to the college or to your child
If your child’s college does replace their grant funding with your child’s scholarship, you’ll have the following options:
- Notify the scholarship organization of the college’s financial aid practices, ask them to send your child the scholarship check directly, and don’t report the scholarship to the college.
- Report the scholarship to the college, knowing that they will replace their grant funding with your child’s scholarship.
The decision of how to handle this dilemma represents an ethical gray area in the college admissions consulting world and is entirely up to you. Nevertheless, I want to ensure that you make your decision with complete information.
The Emroch & Kilduff, LLP $1,000 Scholarship Essay Contest
The Personal Injury Lawyers at Emroch & Kilduff, LLP realize that education is the foundation to a successful career, but may not be financially feasible for students and their families. For this reason, Emroch & Kilduff, LLP is proud to announce an annual $1,000 Scholarship Essay Contest.
The 2018 Essay Topic
To participate in the contest, applicants should write a 600-word essay answering the following question:
Texting and driving/distracted driving are among some of the top causes of accidents on our roads. Review your state’s laws on texting and driving. Do you think laws need to be revamped? What invention or device would you invent in order to help lower the temptation to drive while distracted?
- Applicant must be a high school senior in the graduating class of 2019, planning to enroll in an accredited United States college or University during the 2019 academic year.
How to Apply
People who wish to participate should send their essay as an attachment in an email (pdfs/Google Drive submissions will not be accepted) to email@example.com by December 31, 2018, 9 AM EST. In the body of the email, applicants should include the following information:
- Your name, address, and phone number
- If you are under 18, contact information for your parents
- The name of the school you are attending or planning on attending
- The best way to contact you
Once the application period has ended, our scholarship committee will review the essays and choose a winner by January 15, 2019. The winner will be chosen considering the following factors:
- Responsiveness to the question asked
- The quality of the writing
- The substantive content of the response
Congratulations to our 2017 winner, Ryan Hooper!
Contact Emroch & Kilduff, LLP for More Information
Emroch & Kilduff, LLP focuses on representing the victims of personal injury, in both state and federal courts. To contact our law firm, please fill out and submit the contact form available here, or call our office today at 888-358-1568.