While many students assume they’re ineligible for scholarships, there are countless, wide-ranging opportunities offered by clubs, colleges, businesses, and foundations that you may be the perfect candidate for.

Best of all, there are a number of things you can start doing right this second to increase your chances of qualifying.

Whether it’s signing up for special programs or performing community service during high school, these steps can ensure you maximize funding potential and could transform your college experience by freeing you of some of the financial burden.

Stop Waiting and Start Doing

It’s never too early to start researching and applying to scholarships. Take a look at the recent recipients of scholarships you’re interested in and assess their credentials. How does your résumé stack up against theirs? What can you do to highlight your skills as well as they highlighted theirs?

You should also talk to your high school counselor, who has a lot of experience in what it takes to score scholarships. They may know about local scholarships and can help guide your class choices to be as appealing as possible to scholarship committees. A more difficult and nuanced set of courses shows scholarship decision makers that you’re ready to work at a college level and put their money to good use.

Get Involved in What You’re Passionate About

Extracurricular activities are vital to making both your college and scholarship applications stand out. But more important than signing up for every club or team your school offers is to seek high levels of responsibility in the organizations you’re most passionate about. It’s not about quantity with extracurriculars, it’s quality.

Reach Out to the Community

Taking part in volunteer work is easy, free, and valuable, and could be just the element that sets your application apart. It shows that you care about what’s happening outside the walls of your high school. Whether you’re an athlete who wants to help with the Special Olympics or strive to raise money to combat a health issue that has affected your family, find a way to give back that is meaningful to you.

Sarah Wurtz, former Senior Assistant Registrar at Indiana State University, agrees. “Community service is growing in importance,” she says. Wurtz encourages students to build relationships with community leaders or influencers whose endorsements may aid scholarship applications. “Getting to know someone who could write you a personal recommendation is always a plus,” she says.


Have Fun with Essay-Writing

Who says you can’t enjoy those scholarship applications? Companies like Unigo award thousands of dollars every month for essays on topics like surviving a zombie apocalypse, which surely leaves room for ample creativity. To prepare, take advantage of your English classes and essay assignments by soliciting your teachers’ feedback about how you can generally improve your writing skills. You can also peruse college essay-writing guides like 7 Ways to Make Your College Essay Stand Out. If you’re still struggling to put your thoughts on paper, try recording them on your phone, then transcribing them so that you have something to start with.

Go Local

With so many applicants competing for nationally available scholarships, it’s smart to target local opportunities first. School counselors tend to know about local programs, while friends and family may be aware of scholarships or aid offered by neighborhood businesses and organizations.

“You’ll see lots of advertisements for national scholarships funded by everyone from Dell to CocaCola, but there are usually tens of thousands of students vying for those,” says Wurtz. “Start with your local community. There will be less competition, and that $500 from your local bank or Elks club can add up.”

Try These Online Resources

Even if you’re still convinced that you won’t qualify for scholarships, you might find something tailored to your criteria online. Start with a free scholarship search tool to get a sense of what’s out there.

If you want more assistance and are willing to pay for it, there are some paid options. Keep in mind that these fees can add up quickly, which is money you could use toward college.

Show Gratitude

A simple thank you (and thank-you note) can go a long way. If you’ve secured a scholarship from a smaller business or company, let them know how much it means to you. Not only is this the polite thing to do, but little gestures like these keep you on people’s radars. This can have a big impact when it comes to applying for further scholarships in subsequent years.

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