November is National College Scholarship Month, and that means it is time for anyone preparing for college next fall to get serious about researching and applying for scholarships. In fact, the majority of college scholarship application deadlines occur between now and early next year. One third of undergraduate college students used scholarships to pay for college last year, with an average of $7,700, according to Sallie Mae’s national “How America Pays for College” study. “There are hundreds of thousands of scholarships available to students, but in order to qualify for any support you first need to apply,” said Joe DePaulo, executive vice president, Sallie Mae. “The good news is that you don’t need to be the class valedictorian or star athlete to be eligible for many awards.” For example, through Nov. 13, Sallie Mae’s Upromise college savings rewards program is offering the chance to win $150,000 for college. Entering is simple at Upromise.com or the Upromise Facebook page, and members can also gain unlimited entries every time they shop online through Upromise.com. There is no purchase required to enter. Sallie Mae recommends students and families follow these tips to help make scholarship searches successful:
- Start searching for scholarships as early as possible. You can begin as early as ninth or tenth grade, as scholarships for younger students sometimes have less competition. The key is to start early and renew efforts year after year to take advantage of additional opportunities.
- Sign up for a free online scholarship search service. Sallie Mae’s free database at www.collegeanswer.com/scholarships lists more than 3 million scholarships worth over $16 billion. Visitors can also register for a chance to win a $1,000 drawing each month.
- Expand your search. Not all scholarships will be found online: check with local clubs, religious organizations, employers, and your guidance counselor. Local scholarships tend to be less competitive. Also, corporations often award scholarships to their customers.
- Don’t be intimidated if you’re not at the top of your class. Scholarship judges love to see leadership and volunteerism, and many don’t ask for GPA or standardized test scores. When applying for scholarships, make sure to showcase commitment and depth with involvement in campus clubs or organizations.
- Don’t overlook unusual opportunities. Some organizations offer scholarships to highlight interesting career opportunities, hobbies or products. For example, you could apply for the Duck Calling Contest, American Association of Candy Technologists Scholarship, Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year Award, or the Stuck at Prom Duck Brand Duck Tape Scholarship Contest, to name a few.
- Search year round. There are many scholarships available all year long, and scholarships due in the winter can have less competition. Treat scholarship searching and applying like a part-time job, as many opportunities come up throughout the year.
- Watch out for scholarship scams. Tag lines such as “It’s guaranteed,” or “We’ll do the work for you, for a fee,” are red flags for scams. Scholarship searches should be simple and free to use.