Financing Your Education: a Big Hurdle to Jump Over

It is your senior year of high school. You have applied to schools, received acceptance letters, and decided where to spend the next four years continuing your education. Many hurdles have been cleared getting to this point. You bend your knees, preparing to jump over the next one: how to pay for it.

I have never run track in my life, much less any form of hurdles. I know it involves a fair amount of running and jumping, but that is the limit of my knowledge. What I do have some knowledge of is how to lessen the financial burden of higher education through the use of scholarships, and so, that will be the focus of the remainder of this article.

The purpose of this article is not to detail a “sure-fire way” to receive scholarship money, a “life-hack” if you will. Applying for scholarships is a grueling process that results in many more denials than acceptances. In the time since I was a senior in high school, I have applied for close to 50 scholarships. I have been lucky, and am honored to have received a fair amount of these over the past couple of years, totaling more than $100,000.

Being the recipient of scholarships, however, is not up to luck alone. In fact, luck plays an immensely small role in the process. Many years and countless hours go into creating a competitive application in hopes that it stands out amongst all of the other competitive applications. I cannot help you in creating this type of application, apart from suggesting that you focus on achieving a strong GPA and involve yourself a diverse set of extra-curricular activities that you are passionate about. What I can do is offer a few tips that will help you during the process of applying.

First, create a spreadsheet organizing the scholarships by category: name, amount, when it is due, and whether it has additional requirements that vary from the ones typically found in a scholarship application. This spreadsheet will be the most beneficial tool that you will use when applying for scholarships because it will act as a checklist, ensuring that you include everything that is necessary.

The typical items that most scholarships require apart from a completed application are a résumé, a high school transcript, a copy of your ACT score, an essay detailing your goals in life, a statement of your financial need, and various recommendation letters. I recommend spending a lot of time to make sure that these typical items are in top-shape because you will use them for almost every scholarship. As a side note, even if the scholarship does not say any of the above items are required, it is always beneficial to include them.

Lastly, apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for. I repeat: apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for. I state this twice because applying for scholarships takes a lot of time, even with all of the organization and preparation I have detailed above. Each scholarship, depending on the size of its application, takes about an hour to complete. During your senior year and beyond, (even now I am applying for as many scholarships as possible,) use the time you have to your advantage. Give up your weekends if you have to. I did. The more time you put into your scholarships, the better your applications should be.

Perhaps the biggest tip of all: do not get discouraged. As I have said before, applying for scholarships is a grueling process that results in many more denials than acceptances. In fact, the first handful of letters I received from scholarship committees, and even some I received this summer, were denials. However, one scholarship denial does not mean all scholarships will result in denials. Keep applying, stay focused, and maintain the integrity of your applications. Most of all, good luck!

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