Tips to win college scholarships

by Jennifer Johnson,

Few things in life are better than free money, and that’s especially true when it comes to college. 

Easing debt through scholarships is worth it — your future self will thank you — but it takes time. Willamette’s Student Academic Grants and Awards and Financial Aid offices offer a few tips to get started: 

Start your search ASAP. Deadlines for scholarships vary. Some applications are due a year before college begins, so start checking junior year if possible. You’ll also need time to collect letters of recommendation, transcripts and write essays, plus get them reviewed by teachers. The more eyes that can view your writing, the better. 

Get organized. Create a detailed list, an Excel spreadsheet or whatever you need to note every scholarship you plan to pursue and the deadlines and materials required.

Don’t discount small scholarships. Even the smallest amounts add up. A $500 scholarship can cover the cost of books for a term or two, while five of them can pay for residence hall room costs. Every dollar you earn is a dollar that doesn’t need to be borrowed through a loan program. 

Don't pay for anything. You’ll inevitably come across paid consultants who offer expert advice on scholarship searches. Willamette staff strongly recommend against paying for a search or scholarship application (it’s likely a scam) and if you’re a current college student, you can find better advice — for free — at your college. 

Develop a core personal statement. Write one personal statement that you can modify and repeat across several applications. Contrary to popular belief, you can reuse a statement with the addition of a specific section that addresses why you want to apply for that scholarship. 

Don’t count yourself out. Convinced you’re not competitive enough for certain scholarships?  That line of thinking only eliminates your chance at some serious money. Remind yourself that you don’t know anything about the competition and don’t need to do the work of the committee. Most importantly, if you win a scholarship, its impact lasts far beyond its financial value — you can gain access to a community of scholars who can become a personal or professional network that will last the rest of your life. 

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