10 Great Ways to Win a College Scholarship

Last Updated Jan 31, 2011 11:29 AM EST

Every year organizations award more than 1.5 million private college scholarships to students that are worth in excess stacks of $20 dollar billsof $3.5 billion.

Want to increase your chances of winning some of this college scholarship money? Here are 10 ways to increase the odds that you'll win a scholarship for college students.

1. Give the scholarship sponsor what it wants.

A scholarship application often contains the sponsor's scholarship selection criteria, but dig deeper. Research the scholarship sponsor on the web. Look for the organization's mission statement, which you'll often find in the "About Us" section of its website.

2. Get involved with your community.

Students who volunteer enjoy a huge advantage with scholarship sponsors, says Marianne Ragins, who was featured on the cover of Parade Magazine in 1991, one of the most popular issues in the magazine's history, after winning more than $400,000 in college scholarships. Ragins, who conducts presentations on winning scholarships, says scholarship sponsors are looking for a long-time commitment to volunteering. This bias towards volunteering makes sense since many scholarship providers are nonprofits committed to helping others.

3. Look professional.

Google your name to make sure that you have a professional online presence, advises Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FastWeb and the author of the new book Secrets to Winning a Scholarship. Remove any inappropriate material from Facebook. And don't use a risqué email account. Keep it boring.

4. Use a scholarship search engine.

Using scholarship search engines will make your job easier. Here are some to check out:

5. Don't ignore the optional questions.

When supplying your background on scholarship search engines, answer the optional questions. Addressing these questions can generate about twice as many scholarship matches, Kantrowitz says.

6. Learn more about scholarship odds.

Read this post from CollegeStats.org: Which College Scholarships are Easy to Get? We Have the Data.

7. Apply to every eligible scholarship.

It's a numbers game and even among the most accomplished students, luck is a factor. Don't ignore the small stuff. Some scholarships worth $1,000 or less may only have 15 or 20 students applying, Ragins says.

8. Look for essay contests.

Students can be lazy and many will skip scholarship contests that require an essay. Applying for these scholarships could increase your odds of success.

9. Be passionate.

When you're writing a scholarship essay let your personal voice come through. Include lots of details in your essay that helps reveal who you are. It's usually a good idea to focus on a problem and how you solved it or overcame adversity.


10. Think local.

Ask your high school guidance counselors about local scholarships. Also check bulletin boards at libraries and outside financial aid offices. Local scholarships are going to be easier to win than regional and national ones.

More on CBS MoneyWatch:

10 Most Prestigious Scholarships in America
How Rare Are Full-Ride Scholarships?
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Scholarships for college students image by Johnny Vulkan. CC 2.0.

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