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7 Tips on How to Apply for College Scholarships

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Private scholarships are a great way to help cover your school-related expenses when there’s a gap in your finances. Still, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of scholarship opportunities. 

If you’re wondering how to apply for scholarships, Ascent can help. Below are some tips on how to apply for a scholarship. 


Where to Find Scholarships

The process of how to apply for college scholarships can feel stressful. But if you break it down into small steps, it can feel like an easier process to tackle little by little. To get started, figure out where you can find scholarships. Luckily, there are many places where you can search for scholarships like: 

  • Your high school counselor or TRIO counselor 
  • The financial aid office at the university, college, or trade school you’re applying to 
  • The free scholarship tool from the U.S. Department of Labor 
  • Your state’s grant agency 
  • Federal agencies  
  • Local libraries. Yes, the best places to study also have resources on scholarships
  • Your employer, especially if that employer is Starbucks 
  • Your parent’s employer 
  • Professional group/organizations related to your field of study and interests 
  • Searching #Scholarships on Instagram 

Some other places to check out are:  


How to Apply for College Scholarships 

Now that you know where to find scholarships check out our 7 scholarship tips. 


1. Start Applying for Scholarships Early 

There’s a common misconception that you must wait until you get accepted into a college or university to apply for scholarships, but that’s not true. The earlier you start applying for scholarships, the better. 

There’s no exact time you should start applying. Some scholarships are available as early as your first year of high school, and different scholarships may be offered throughout the year. Find the scholarships you’re eligible for and start applying. 

Also, did you know Ascent offers a chance to win monthly scholarships throughout the year? If you’re over 14, you can enter for a chance to win one of Ascent’s scholarship opportunities: 


2. Build a Scholarship Template for Yourself 

Depending on the types of scholarships you might be eligible to apply for, some of the underlying requirements may be the same. This is where a scholarship template will help you. Instead of having to rewrite the same answers repeatedly, you can copy and paste the answers. You can always refine and edit your responses later to match the scholarship requirements.  

Some scholarship opportunities may ask you to submit letters of recommendation or short essays. Ask someone in your network for a letter of recommendation, like someone you volunteered with, a coworker, the parents of your babysitting job, or a mentor. 

When it comes to scholarships requiring essays, you will need to find a way to stand out among the competition. Chances are that the person reviewing your application will read through a handful of essays before getting to yours – so find a way to make yours unique. One way to do that is to draw from personal experiences. What’s one experience you’ve had that’s changed you?  

Other scholarship application tips for essays are: 

  • Re-read the prompt a few times before you start writing. 
  • Build an outline if you’re running into serious writer’s block. 
  • Answer the prompt thoroughly without exceeding the word count.
  • Avoid repeating the prompt in your answer. 
  • Proofread! You can even ask a friend or family member to proofread it too. 

3. Apply for All Types of College Scholarships 

It may seem enticing to only apply to scholarships with big award amounts like $25,000 or $50,000, but don’t count out the smaller prizes.

It may help if you consider applying to scholarship opportunities with smaller award amounts, including more niche and local awards. When researching scholarships with smaller award amounts, you may find some have lengthy applications or require you to submit a video. Don’t let this stop you from applying. According to College Raptor, you may have a higher chance of winning a smaller scholarship award because fewer students are likely to apply – and the smaller scholarship amounts add up. If you apply for many scholarships, your awards will add up.  


4. Search for College Scholarships that Align with Your Interests, Goals, and Background 

As you apply for multiple scholarships, you may find that some organizations offer scholarships for students with a particular background. This may include scholarships specific to minority students, DACA recipients, single mothers, or children of single parents. You may also find other scholarships that align with your passions, like video games and sports, or if your career goals include pursuing a nursing degree or certification.

Scholarship websites like Niche and UNIGO make it easy to find unique scholarships that match your interests and passions. You can also check out other scholarship opportunities your school offers at your financial aid office. Plus, there might be more specific ones to your major.

Finding a scholarship that aligns with your interests might be easier to fill out.  


5. Understand Your School’s Private Scholarship Policy 

Every school has different scholarship policies, so be sure to check in with your financial aid office before accepting every scholarship opportunity that comes your way. 

Suppose you received financial aid from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). In that case, this might limit your opportunity to apply for scholarships. Some colleges won’t allow you to stack the private scholarships you earn with your financial aid or other scholarships offered by your school. Road2College defines this situation as “scholarship displacement,” and can ultimately lead to your financial aid award amount decreasing. 

Make sure you schedule some time to meet with your financial aid office and see how they handle scholarships. You can get the conversation started by asking these questions: 

  • What are the requirements to apply for need-based and merit-based financial aid? 
  • If I win a private scholarship, how will it impact my financial aid package? Will my scholarship replace loans or grants? 
  • Where can I find more information on the college website? 


6. Continue Applying for Scholarships Even if You Win One 

It’s important to continue applying to as many scholarships as you can. As we mentioned in tip 3, every little scholarship you win adds up. You’ll never know how much money you may win if you stop trying. 

If it feels like you’ve applied to hundreds and have yet to win, don’t let that stop you, either. You’re increasing your chances of winning some money by taking the time to apply.  


7. Be Cautious of Fake Scholarships and Scams 

One of the most important tips on how to apply for scholarships is to be cautious of scams. People looking to make some quick cash know that students will look into almost anything to pay for school. The good news is that you can easily spot a scam if you know what to watch.  

According to, there are a few common scholarship scams that students and their families fall victim to every year. Some of those scams include: 

  • Scholarships that require an application fee 
  • Scholarships that ask for your social security number 
  • Scholarships that are low-interest loans 
  • Scholarships that require you to pay a disbursement or redemption fee 
  • Scholarship sites that guarantee you will win a scholarship for a small fee 

Most scholarship applications are free and don’t require your social security number. If you ever feel like something shady is happening or if you feel like you’re about to get scammed, you’re probably right. Remember always to trust your gut and walk away (and close out of any windows) if something doesn’t feel right. 

If you’re still unsure, here’s a tip you can use to find out. Google “[Scholarship’s name] scam.” Chances there will be posts about whether the scholarship is a scam or legit. Plus, you might get some stories detailing the scam if it is indeed one.

Don’t let this scare you. The great thing about scholarships is that you don’t have to pay them back; they are a great way to pay for school.  


Ascent’s College Scholarships 

Ascent offers monthly scholarship opportunities that allow eligible students to enter for a chance to win one of our scholarships throughout the year. Check out all our scholarship opportunities and see the official rules before entering.

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