College application season is upon us! We here at Scholly want to help you get ahead of the game when it comes to funding your education. Luckily, we have plenty of scholarship winning tips to share.

With college tuition higher than ever and national student loan debt at crisis level, scholarships are one of the ideal ways to help pay for college. The best part is that scholarships provide FREE money towards your education; you don’t have to pay them back!

Our Founder and CEO Christopher Gray earned $1.3 million in scholarships to fund his education and Scholly has already helped students win over $100 million in scholarships… so we KNOW there’s money out there for you! 

Now, we’ve come together with expert intel to compile the ultimate list of scholarship winning tips anyone can use to win big. Take a look!

1. Create a List of Your Unique Traits

Did you know that there’s a scholarship out there for practically everything? There are scholarships offered based on nationality, personal interests, GPA, languages spoken, extra curricular activities, and so on! There are scholarships for swimmers, pianists, fantasy football players, students who grew up with certain hardships, first-generation college students, LGBTQ individuals… you get the picture!

And here’s the key. Scholarship winners don’t take a shotgun approach to applying for scholarships; they find ones that fit them.

So we recommend that you start by making a list of all of your unique traits. You might be really surprised by the number of scholarships out there that fit your individual skills and qualities, so don’t leave anything off! (If you’re not sure where to begin, sign up for Scholly and answer our scholarship-matching questions. We’ll help identify your unique traits and find scholarships that match!)

You can start with this list of traits about who you are, including:

  • Personal interests and passions
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Hardships you or your family have endured (e.g. cancer, loss of a parent, a natural disaster, etc.)
  • Career interests or goals
  • Academic accomplishments
  • Heritage
  • Sex/gender
  • Personality traits (e.g. strong sense of leadership, great sense of humor)
  • University you currently attend or the universities you’re applying to

2. Search for Scholarships Based On These Traits

Once you’ve got your list of unique traits handy, you can start searching! There are literally tens of thousands of scholarships out there. Many are easy to find, such as popular, high-competition scholarships like the Gates Millennium Scholars Program and the Ronald McDonald House Charities Scholarship. These are big names offering big rewards!

But many thousands of others can be hard to find, especially specialized ones and those with less competition (when their hard to find, they have less competition!), so you’ll want to be extremely diligent in your research. Don’t be afraid to ask teachers and counselors for advice, they can be great resources!

Want help finding the best scholarships for you, including those with less competition? Scholly Search, our award-winning scholarship matching app, will find them instantly for you. Zero research required.

3. Develop a Prioritized List of Scholarship Opportunities

As you’re searching for scholarships, keep a list that prioritizes opportunities based on several factors: due date, unique fit, and scholarship amount. Obviously the closest approaching deadlines should be top priority, followed by the type of scholarship (how uniquely it matches you), and then the dollar amount.

Everyone’s list will look a little different, but the goal is to apply for all of the best scholarships in a timely manner.

When it comes to prioritizing scholarships, don’t discount what seems like a huge, too-good-to-be-true scholarship or payoff opportunity, assuming you’ll never win it. Go big or go home, right? For example, at Scholly, we frequently offer HUGE scholarship and student loan payoff opportunities that are super simple to apply for! High dollar scholarships are often competitive, but it can’t hurt to try for them because there are always winners.

On the other hand, don’t dismiss smallish scholarships either! There are tons of scholarships out there in the $500-$2,000 range. This may not seem like a lot, but every dollar counts and these scholarships add up!

4. Implement a Scholarship Schedule

It may sound obvious but apply for as many scholarships as possible! Don’t skimp.

Searching and applying for scholarships should be a regular part of your college preparation routine, much like standardized test prep. 

Carve out time to dedicate solely to scholarship applications, and even consider making a scholarship schedule. For example, every Monday, spend an hour searching and saving scholarship opportunities and every Wednesday, spend an hour applying to them. Choose what works best for you and stick to it. We’re all busy, but if you make the time for scholarships, you’ll be thankful later! 

We highly recommend that you apply to 10 scholarships per month to drastically increase your chances of winning scholarship money. If this sounds overwhelming, think of it this way: that’s 2 or 3 scholarship applications a week, which is totally manageable. The more you apply for, the greater your chances of winning. These are just the facts.

And by the way, there are plenty of scholarship opportunities out there that don’t take long to apply for at all, with some taking as little as 15 minutes. In your scholarship schedule, try to stagger shorter and longer scholarship applications, so you’re never too loaded up.

5. Build a Scholarship “Toolbox” (And Save Time Later)

What, you might ask, is a scholarship toolbox? Basically, it’s just all of the resources and knowledge you’ll need to slay the scholarship application process!

By gathering all of the (potentially) necessary items and information you’ll need for scholarship applications ahead of time, you’ll be able to crank out more scholarship applications in less time. These items include:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Scholarship essays you’ve written in the past
  • All of your school’s information (name, address, your graduation year, the 6-digit high school code etc.)
  • Most recent transcripts (high school and/or college)
  • Personal information (name, address, email address, your parents’/guardians’ information and employers, etc.)
  • Parents’ most recent federal tax return (if you’re a dependent)
  • Completed FAFSA and SAR report (which is generated after you complete the FAFSA)
  • Your student loan lender information (if you’ve already taken out student loans)
  • A recent, non-blurry photo of just you (think “headshot” style from shoulders up and without your friends in the frame)

Will you need ALL of this information for every scholarship? Not likely. But the idea is to gather all of these resources and documents ahead of time so that if you do need them, you won’t lose time searching for them.

6. Don’t Rush Your Scholarship Applications!

Make sure you’re giving each application the necessary time and consideration to be a strong contender. You want your application to stand out, to reflect your ability to be thoughtful and hard-working. 

Taking the appropriate time to apply for scholarships involves:

  • Reading all directions (including fine print) thoroughly
  • Familiarizing yourself with the organization offering the scholarship
  • Reflecting thoughtfully on any questions or essays
  • Writing and proofing a strong scholarship essay, if applicable (more on this shortly)

In a nutshell: don’t phone it in and you’ll increase your odds of winning that free money for college.

7. Track Your Scholarship Applications 

The more organized you are, the better, and if you’re applying for a lot of scholarships (as we recommend) then organization is key.

Scholly Search allows you to save upcoming scholarships, stay on top of due dates, and keep track of the scholarships you’ve applied for (including your wins!), but a spreadsheet also works well.

Whatever your preferred method, keeping a master list of scholarships and tracking them ensures that you won’t miss out on any great opportunities. It also helps with college budgeting, since you can see how much you’ve earned and how much you’ll still have to cover.

8. Follow The Directions to a Tee

Are you required to provide your GPA? A letter of recommendation? A photo of just your face? A 250-word essay? Then do precisely that! Don’t deviate from the scholarship’s guidelines and risk being disqualified for a silly reason.

It sounds obvious, but it’s so important to make sure you submit everything necessary in order to avoid being disqualified. Triple check the requirements and that you’re submitting them correctly!

9. Always Do The “Optional” Work

Okay, listen, no one really wants MORE work to do, we get it. But if a scholarship has any “optional” requirements (e.g. an essay, a letter of recommendation, a joke—yep, that’s something that’s actually come up before on an application) we urge you to consider it “mandatory” and do it. 

Here’s why: completing the additional work shows your initiative and drive, and will make your application stand out from other candidates who perhaps didn’t provide the extra materials. Go above and beyond!

10. Write a Killer Scholarship Essay

Ah, the scholarship essay. Not every scholarship requires one, but many do, and this is really your chance to shine. Your essay allows you to show the more dimensional aspects of yourself—things that can’t be reflected in just your GPA or test scores. 

This is our complete checklist for how to write a scholarship essay that will help you win big, which is fully of pretty much everything you need to know about writing the best scholarship essay possible.

Here are some highlights…

Stick to the prompt

Answer the specific prompt at hand as clearly and concisely as possible. If the prompt is asking about a time you achieved something despite a setback, don’t write about what you’ll do with the scholarship money if you win. If you’re asked to discuss what you want to study in college and why, don’t write about the day your baby sister was born (unless that directly pertains to your college and career goals!).

You don’t have to repeat the prompt or question in your essay, but you do need to stick to the subject at hand, stay focused, and stay within the character or word count.

Tell a story with your essay

Your essay can have a traditional introduction-body-conclusion format like may of the essays you’ve probably written in school, but it doesn’t have to be quite as academic.

Keep it professional, of course. No cursing, “text speak,” or highly controversial stances is usually a good rule of thumb. But also make sure to paint a vivid picture for the reader by showing not telling.

For example, if you’re describing how the scholarship money will help change your future for the better (a fairly common scholarship prompt), avoid cliches and platitudes like, “it would mean the world to me to win” or “winning would be real game-changer.” The scholarship essay readers know this!

Instead, try to describe what life would look like for you with the financial assistance, being as specific as possible. For instance, you could say something like:

“This scholarship will allow me to take an unpaid internship at a veterinary clinic where I can help care for sick and wounded animals, which is an important step in preparing to be a veterinarian.”

In other words, try to be precise, providing the readers a clear picture of your passions and aspirations.

Don’t just repeat your resume

Instead of just listing your accomplishments (boring) show the readers something new about you! The idea is to provide another layer of who you are as a candidate. This is particularly important if you’re also including your resume with your application, to avoid being redundant.

Submit a proofed and polished essay!

Listen, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to get another set of eyes on your written work to help you catch any content or style errors. So share your scholarship essays with a trusted friend, parent, or teacher for feedback before submitting.

Or, better yet, use Scholly Editor to proof and improve your essay! Scholly Editor is an AI-powered proofreader that provides detailed edits to spelling, grammar, word choice, flow, and more. The best part is that you’ll also learn why your errors are wrong.

No matter what, even when you think your essay is ready for submission, give it one last proof before sending it off. It would be a huge bummer to miss out on some serious cash on account of a typo!

“Recycle” your essays

While every scholarship prompt will be a little different, many of the same themes and topics will repeat. For example, essay prompts will often ask you to discuss an accomplishment of which you are proud or to discuss your career and life goals.

Because of this, it’s good to have a “template” essay that you can essentially re-use for more than one prompt. You’ll likely have to make small tweaks to it each time, but if it’s strong to begin with, you can likely “recycle” it for multiple submissions.

11. Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute

We recommend applying as early as possible for scholarships. Why? 

For one, some scholarships do prioritize early applications.

And even if you don’t get bonus points for applying early, you’ll give yourself enough time to make sure there are no glitches with your scholarship application. We’ve all waited until the last minute to submit something online only to find out the website is down or there are other “technological difficulties.”

Plus, if you apply early you won’t be rushed and you’ll deliver your best work. And you’ll free up more time to apply for more scholarships!

12. Beware of Scholarship Scams

Scholarships exist to GIVE you free money, not to take your money! So if you see a scholarship with an alleged “submission fee” look elsewhere!

Additionally, bold claims like “you’ve been pre-selected” or “it’s guaranteed or your money back” are evidence of shady business.

Here’s more information on how to avoid scholarship scams but the gist is that any REAL scholarship opportunity will not ask for any sort of payment or confidential information.

13. Clean Up Your Public Social Media 

Okay, this is a biggie. Just like prospective employers, scholarship committee members will often vet their candidates, so make sure your social media is exuding professionalism.

In fact, many scholarships actually ask for a link to a social media profile (sometimes of your choice, sometimes not), so make sure you provide a working, accessible link.

14. Check Your Spam Folder

You’ll likely be notified by email if you win a scholarship, so be on the lookout for updates. We all know that important mail can get stuck in the good ol’ spam folder though, so make sure to check that regularly too.

15. Don’t Give Up! Scholarships Are Life-Changing and Worth the Effort

This is perhaps the most important of all the scholarship winning tips. Realistically, you’ll face some rejection. That’s okay! College is expensive and some scholarships are competitive, but just keep applying! That scholarship money is bound to rack up eventually.

BONUS Tip: Scholarships Are Not a One-Time Deal

Many students don’t know this but you can keep applying for scholarships even once you’re in college. That’s right… you can apply for scholarships for years and keep getting more free money for college.

In fact, the students who win the most scholarship money typically apply every semester. Obviously it’s important to get a jump start on applications before the school year starts (especially if you’re in high school), but huge sums of money are available throughout the year.

Looking for More Scholarship Opportunities?

Give Scholly Search a whirl! It’s the boldest, baddest scholarship-matching app out there with an ever-expanding database of scholarships tailored just to you!

Happy applying and good luck!