by Robert Farrington, Contributor,
When I talk to people in student loan debt after college, the number one thing they say they wish they’d have done differently is get more scholarships to pay for school.
Scholarships are the most under-rated tool when it comes to getting money to pay for school. There are billions of dollars up for grabs every year, and few people really put the time and effort into applying for them
Don’t get me wrong – applying for scholarships takes work – but it can be time well spent. Given that the average student loan debt of graduating college students hovers around $38,000 – if you can find that amount of money in scholarships, you could graduate debt free!
After years of helping people pay for school, here are my top five secrets for landing scholarships to help you pay for college. They may seem basic, but they work.
1. It’s A Numbers Game – Just Apply
A few years ago, Fastweb shared that $2.9 billion in grant money went unclaimed simply because people didn’t apply for the FAFSA. And the FAFSA is just one avenue to getting grants and scholarships. (Note: apply for the FAFSA).
There are also countless private scholarships available that get few or no entries.
For example, I run a scholarship every year for entrepreneurial students. We give away two scholarships, a $2,000 scholarship and a $500 runner-up scholarship. In 2019, only 47 people applied to that scholarship. That means you have a 4% chance, based on entries alone, to get a scholarship.
However, applying for scholarships does take time. But when you realize it’s a numbers game, you can simply boost the number you apply to. For example, using that 4% probability you have to claim my scholarship, even being a runner up gives you a $20 expected value. Given that it takes about 1 hour to apply, you’re effectively earning $20/hr by applying to my scholarship.
When you think about scholarship math in probability and expected value, applying to a lot of scholarships suddenly makes sense.
2. Follow The Application Instructions
But the above example focuses simply on entires – it doesn’t include the amount of people that get disqualified for not following the application instructions.
On average, about 20% of all applications get disqualified for not following the scholarship application instructions.
Most scholarships have very clear instructions:
- Name, address, phone number
- Essay in specific format (usually Word)
- Headshot picture
- Specific form to use
If you don’t follow the instructions, you’ll get disqualified immediately. On the flip side, this really increases the odds for those that do follow the instructions.
Going back to my scholarship this year, of the 47 people that applied, eight did not follow the directions and were immediately disqualified. This included not submitting a headshot, not providing the required information, or even one applicant simply not attaching their essay at all.
That lowers the amount of competition down to just 39 scholarship applicants!
3. Submit By The Deadline
Another common mistake I see every year is not submitting your scholarship by the deadline. Each year I’ve run my scholarship, there have always been late applications. These are also rejected.
Instead of waiting to the last minute, apply for scholarships early! Even better, plan out a scholarship application calendar and treat it like homework. This will allow you to space out your scholarship applications and hopefully prevent you from missing a deadline.
For my scholarship, one application was submitted late – lowering the scholarship competition to 38.
4. Proof Read Your Essay
For scholarships that require essays or other work (such as videos), make sure that you both follow the guidelines and proof read your essay.
Many private scholarships require some type of essay or video. These essays usually align with the organization’s mission. In my case, I want to support entrepreneurial students, so I ask for an essay that describes their entrepreneurial experiences. Other organizations might ask for essays around charitable works, missions, or other activities.
When it comes to applying for the scholarship, follow the directions but also double check your essay before submitting it. Too often I see submissions that don’t match the topic (maybe the student re-used their essay from another scholarship), or are so poorly written that they are illegible.
Sadly, each year at least a few scholarship submissions are disqualified as a result of this. For 2019, only one application was disqualified due to an essay that didn’t match the topic.
As a result, the total competition for my scholarship was now down to just 37.
5. Promote The Scholarship
Finally, this is a trick I’ve seen applied many times, and while it won’t guarantee you a scholarship, it can help you give an edge in a close competition. Simply promote the scholarship.
Today, most students have social media channels – Instagram, Facebook, etc.
When you apply for the scholarship, let others know you applied for it. Show your enthusiasm. Be excited for the organization, the mission, and the opportunity.
If the scholarship has multiple rounds (for example, if you are a finalist), announce that you made it.
Most scholarship organizers have multiple goals with a scholarship. Yes, the scholarship is about giving back, giving student assistance, and helping pay for school. But scholarships are also a form of advertising for the organization. As an entrant in a scholarship, you can help them amplify their message – and this can help get you noticed as well.
If the organizer not only sees your scholarship entry, but then they also see your enthusiasm online, it could give you the edge you need to win.
Getting scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for college. And when you realize how much of a numbers game it is (especially if you follow the directions and nail the basics), you can really get a lot of money to help offset the costs of school.
For my scholarship, the real competition was just 37 individuals to win two scholarships. That makes it over a 5% chance of winning, without even trying too hard.
If you apply to just 20 scholarships, you can have a real chance of getting a substantial amount of money to pay for college.
Robert Farrington founded The College Investor, a personal finance website dedicated to helping people get out of student loan debt and start investing as early as possible.