The process of applying to scholarships can be daunting. Which ones do I apply to? Which ones do I have the best shot at winning? Here is my experience. The bottom line is have patience and make sure to apply for the less competitive (lower rewards) scholarships.
I won a ton of scholarships my 5th year as an undergrad–so much that I not only paid for the year’s tuition but had to return extra money. Prior to that I had only been selected for one scholarship. Most of the scholarships I won my fifth year were essay scholarships that required 2-3 letters of recommendations. By that point I had developed great relationships with two professors and one employer who could write stellar recommendations, and when you couple that with essays that told a cohesive story of coursework, internships and career aspirations, it seemed almost predictable which scholarships I would win. They tended to be $200-$2,000 scholarships that I don’t think many students applied to–in other words, low hanging fruit.
I work as a math tutor now and offer the Seattle Tutoring Services Math Scholarship for students who have struggled with math. It’s only $200, but all it requires is a 500-1000 word essay. I’ve tried to promote it but I’ve only had five students apply for it. Hopefully more will apply as the deadline gets closer but I imagine it will be one of hundreds if not thousands of low value scholarships that have minimal competition.
If I had to summarize my tips for scholarship tips, I’d say: 1)Identify professors, employers and internship supervisors your freshman year who you can develop a good relationship with and can write you recommendations. The longer and more productive relationship the better. Also, 2) if you’re considering a 5th year as an undergrad, realize you probably have a leg up on other students applying for scholarships and you may be able to finance most if not all of the tuition that year. 3) Go after the smallest scholarships as they may have the least competition.
Have patience if you don’t win scholarships your freshmen year and don’t be afraid to contact those who sponsor the scholarships, asking what they’re looking for and how you can improve your application. Most students think it’s a waste of time applying for a $200 scholarship. But think of it this way…if you can spend only two hours with the application and you win it, that’s like being paid $100/hr.