12 Hacks for Finding the Best Scholarships in 2021

You aced all your exam scores, you excelled in all your classes, and you combined your academic performance with an amazing performance of all your other extracurricular activities. Pretty much, you did very well in high school.

And since you excelled during all those years in high school, you are bent on doing the same in college. You’re intellectually smart. So there’s no need for you to contemplate whether an academic or merit scholarship is helpful. Just by thinking about it, you know that free scholarship money equates to a more affordable and fewer worries college experience. What are the real benefits of scoring a college scholarship? And why are they so important?

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In the United States, CBS News reported that only a mere .03% of the total college population get a full-ride scholarship. Just by looking at it, the odds are quite long. At some point, you might think that it’s pointless to apply for college financial aid. 

However, considering the many benefits, you can get out of a college scholarship, finding the best scholarship may be well worth your time. Of course, everybody knows how stressful applying for scholarships is, and it may seem like another unnecessary stress you should not be thinking about. But what is a scholarship? And what are the different types of it?

What is a Scholarship?

This is a set amount of money given for personal, academic, immutable, or athletic reasons. The money awarded is then spent on many expenses in college. Although there are scholarships for specific programs and schools before college, all these financial grants work the same way. Students who need money for college usually apply for scholarships. Today, these grants’ need is greater than ever as college education continues to become more expensive. 

Types of Scholarship

College scholarships are broken down into several categories, each having its target and criteria that an applicant much reach to qualify. If we list all the different types of college financial aids, our list would be extremely long. Nevertheless, the most common types of scholarships you will encounter are as follows:

Academic Scholarships: These scholarships are awarded to deserving students who have worked hard at their academic performance. To get granted, you should have high grades during high school. Since getting very high ratings are unusual, some academic scholarships are also offered to average students. 

Personal Scholarships: These scholarships are supported by individuals or organizations and mostly focus on personal goals, achievements, and beliefs. One popular example is community service scholarships. There are also personal scholarships that are amusing and strange and still provide much-needed support for universities and colleges. 

Immutable Characteristic Scholarships: These grants are given to people of certain groups. In this scholarship, there are so many niches that fall under this, like women or people of color, or groups based on ethnicity or place of origin.

Activity and Athletic Scholarships. As its name implies, these are scholarships given to athletic achievers. Many popular sports with professional leagues like football and basketball are common, but there are also less popular sports represented in these types of scholarships: swimming, wrestling, and other Olympic sports, to name a few. On the other hand, activity-based scholarships revolve around students in the field of performing arts–from music to drama and even debate activities.

Financial Aid vs. Scholarships: Is There a Difference?

Financial aid is an inherent part of going to college. However, it’s very seldom to find a full-ride financial aid even under the best circumstances. Some students try to get as many scholarships as they possibly can and couple it with college financial aid. These types of college assistance are loans. Meaning, you will carry a balance and interest payment with them.

Scholarships, on the other hand, are never paid back. Unlike financial aid eligibility that checks your family’s general net worth, scholarships are not like that, although those who fall under the disadvantaged population are the primary target. Scholarships don’t have set criteria. Their requirements heavily rely upon those who set the grants. 

Who funds a scholarship?

To clearly understand how scholarships work, you need to check first how they are funded. Individuals, businesses, socio-civic groups, and other entities are usually behind college scholarships and are based on practically anything: ideological similarities, memorial funds, athletics, and the likes. 

Groups and organizations usually fund scholarships through various donations, investments, and government grants. The scholarship organizers will then place prerequisites upon that scholarship relative to the goals and beliefs of those they represent. 

Benefits of Obtaining a College Scholarship

To make you understand how a scholarship can significantly improve your college performance, here are the benefits of getting a college scholarship, full-ride or not, and why it is extremely important. 

It Makes Your Access to Education Easier

In the US, college is undeniably expensive. An average student loan of the class of 2020 is $37,172, with an average loan payment of $393 per month. If you are born intellectually sharp but come from a poor background, getting higher education seems impossible. It is one of the reasons scholarships are indeed important. After all, nobody should be limited to get the right education because of the lack of household income. 

You Get Access to Extensive Support When you Win a College Scholarship

There is more to winning scholarships than just having a healthy bank balance. Today, several colleges support their students in getting scholarships and getting the most out of their scholarship money. 

Many students believe scholarships curtail them from having fun and that they must be buried in their books, day in and day out. No. Colleges will help you get the full benefits of your scholarship in more ways than one. For instance, mentorships are often provided to help you with your program. This is a huge help, especially for first-year students, because it will make you feel that your college will guide you every step of your way to get the best outcomes.

Scholarships Will Help you Network

Not everyone knows how a scholarship can help you start to build a network. When you have a college scholarship, you can network with other students who also have the same scholarship grant as you. Since you are probably in the same academic field, you massive networking bonuses when you graduated from college.

For example, you are fortunate to get a scholarship in business administration. Most likely, you will be in touch with seniors and juniors with the same grant. By the time you try to secure a job, you will have contacts already in the industry, giving you a huge advantage over other candidates. Indeed, networking gives you research and academic opportunities and provides you a different level of friendship in your industry.

Scholarships Won’t Require You to Work

According to one study, almost half of the total population of college undergraduates have jobs to help them keep up with the expensive college and living costs. While this can tremendously help you with your college fees, juggling work and school can compromise your studies. 

Say, for example, you work 16 hours per week. Do you think you can put in as much time and effort into your studies? Wouldn’t you feel physically exhausted? This is one compromise that so many college students need to go through. 

But when you have a scholarship grant, work is totally out of the picture. Meaning, you have all the time to commit to working and focusing on your academic performance. This helps improve your grades and results in getting a better job once you finish college. 

Scholarships Boost your Resume

Winning a college scholarship is extremely difficult. There are scholarships with even receive thousands of applicants, and when you are fortunate enough to be awarded this grant, this speaks a lot to your pre-college achievements– another given recognition.

Upon applying for a job right after college and your resume says you were a college scholar, this speaks volumes. It gives employers the impression that you were diligent with your studies, but you were hardworking enough to secure a scholarship. After all, if a college saw you as the best choice for a scholarship over thousands of other applicants, why should a possible employer not do the same?

Scholarships Encourage Philanthropy

When you win a scholarship, how you look at life will change. You may become more philanthropic if you have been helped significantly by this financial assistance. When the time comes when you’re more stable, you get the capacity to help another student reach for their goals because, at one point, you were in their shoes, and you know the hardships that go with securing a college scholarship.

Scholarships Get You More Access to More Colleges

Some colleges and universities are off-limits if you have no scholarship, even if they do not come from a poor background. For instance, some Ivy League colleges can saddle you with a staggering six-digit debt if you self-pay your way through your schooling. One of the best advantages of having a scholarship is that you can access the best education possible. Especially if you have amazing academic capacities, you will gain more access to the best schools anywhere in the world. Through a scholarship, you get to study better and worry no more about leaving college full of debt. 

Scholarships Provide Additional Experience

Although this will depend on who gives you the scholarship, some grants will require you to carry out different voluntary work types in your field. Don’t think of this as a burden. Instead, consider this an incredible real-world experience that will help boost your resume and help you in your chosen career. And even if it’s not compulsory, it’s a great idea to look for some form of voluntary work that aligns with your scholarship as this type of industry experience is invaluable. 

12 Expert Hacks on Winning the Best Scholarships in 2021

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Now that you have completely understood how a scholarship works and how you can benefit from it, the challenge now lies in how you can get the best scholarship for 2021. Winning a scholarship is a challenge, but here are some expert hacks to help you win big!

1. Make a List of Your Remarkable Traits

Did you know that you can find a scholarship out there for practically everything? Some scholarships are offered based on personal interests, nationality, languages are spoken, GPA, extracurricular activities, sports, and a lot more. There are scholarships for pianists, swimmers, painters, fantasy football players, LGBTQ individuals, less-fortunate students, first-generation college students– you get the whole picture. 

With all these scholarships, you can expect so many other students to try to win them. How will you stand out? Here’s a thought: scholarship winners don’t just take a shotgun move when applying for scholarships. They find time to check the perfect one that fits them. 

Thus, it’s best to start by creating a list of your remarkable traits that you believe will make you stand out. You have no idea how many scholarships are out there that fits your skills, so make sure you do not leave anything off. You can make a list of your traits like this:

  • Passions and personal interests
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Career goals or interests
  • Hardships you and your family endured (natural disaster, health issues, etc.)
  • Heritage
  • Academic accomplishments
  • Personality traits

2. Find Scholarships Based on your Unique Traits

After you have listed down your traits, it’s time to start searching. There are practically thousands of scholarships available out there, and most of them are relatively easy to find. High-competition scholarships include the Ronal McDonald House Charities Scholarship or the Gates Millennium Scholars Programs. 

The more specialized scholarships, however, are quite hard to find. And when they are challenging to find, you often have less competition. Thus, you need to be very diligent with your scholarship research. Ask your counselors or teachers for advice because they are also great resources. 

3. Come Up with a Specific List of Scholarship Opportunities 

As you work your way into finding the best college scholarship for you, create a list that prioritizes more chances of winning a grant based on different factors: unique fit, due date, and the scholarship amount. Of course, the top priority should be the one with the closest approaching deadline, followed by the specific scholarship that uniquely matches you and the amount. 

Everybody’s list will be different, but the bottom line is to promptly apply for the best scholarship. As you choose your options, try not to discount those that seem like they are too good to be true, thinking that you will never have it. Go big or go home, right? In the same manner, avoid underestimating those small scholarships as well. You can find so many scholarships in the $500-$2000 range. And while this may seem meager, remember that every dollar counts. 

4. Practice a Scholarship Schedule

Apply for a college scholarship as many as you can. It may sound very obvious, but don’t be careless. Just like how you prepare for a college standardized test prep, looking for scholarships must be a regular part you should not forget during your college preparation routine. Find the time where it is solely dedicated to filing scholarship applications. Make a scholarship schedule to help you keep on track. 

For instance, carve out an hour during Mondays and dedicate it to looking for scholarship opportunities. Tuesdays, spend an hour applying to them. Find a way that will work best for you and commit to it. Everyone is busy, but it’s critical to find time solely for your scholarship application purposes. 

Start by applying for at least ten scholarships a month to increase your window of better winning scholarship money. It may sound a lot, but if you break it down, that equates to around 2-3 applications every week. The fact will always remain that the more applications you file, the bigger your chances are getting it.

5. Make a Scholarship Toolbox

What is a scholarship toolbox? It’s a list of all the necessary knowledge and resource you need to ace your scholarship applications. When you gather these things ahead of time, you can easily crank out more applications in less time. Your scholarship toolbox should include:

  • Recommendation letters
  • Scholarship essays you previously wrote
  • All the necessary information about your school (name, address, graduation year, the high-school code, etc.)
  • Your most recent transcript of records 
  • Your personal information
  • Latest federal tax return of your parent (if you are a dependent)
  • Completed SAR and FAFDA report (you can have this generated after you secure the FAFSA)
  • Studnet loan lender information (only if you have taken out student loans before)
  • Most recent photo

But do you need all the above-mentioned information? Not necessarily. However, having all these documents and resources on standby will come in very handy by the time you need them. 

6. Avoid Rushing your Applications

To become a strong contender, never rush your application. Your initial goal upon submission of your scholarship application is to stand out among all the other applicants. Taking time means:

  • You thoroughly go through all the direction and read even its fine prints
  • You get to know the organization that is offering the scholarship
  • You reflect and go over any essays or questions
  • You write and proofread your scholarship essay

7. Monitor your Application

Especially if you are submission numerous applications, it’s best to keep track of them to avoid missing possible opportunities. Make a spreadsheet for a more organized tracking system. This also applies to your college budgeting because from there. You can check how many scholarships you have earned and how much you still need to cover. 

8. Be Keen with Directions

Does the scholarship sponsor need a copy of your GPA? Do they require you to submit a letter of recommendation? Are you obliged to forward a photo? Or provide a 250-word convincing essay? Then follow these directions to a tee. Never deviate from the guidelines provided in a scholarship application. Otherwise, you end up risking disqualification for a simple reason. This goes without saying that it always pays to double-check all the requirements before you finally submit your application.

9. Make Your Very Best Scholarship Essay

The dreaded essay! Although not all scholarships will require you to make an essay, many of them still do. Never second-guess the importance of creating a killer essay. This is your very chance to shine. Writing an essay gives the evaluator a deeper look at yourself– things that your GPA and test scores will not provide. There are so many ways you can do to keep your essay inviting, but the highlights include:

  • Sticking to the prompt as concisely and clearly as possible
  • Tell a personal story, but keep it professional
  • Avoid making your essay a detailed description of what you put in your resume
  • Submit a proofread and polished essay

10. Never Wait Until the Very Last Minute 

Most scholarships prioritize early submissions. But even if you don’t get prioritized for submitting your application early, avoiding last-minute preparations give you ample time to cross-check any glitches and changes in your application. Classic example: you have waited until the very last minute to forward your submission online, only to realize that the sponsor’s website is not up and running. That will only add more stress, right?

11. Be Wary of Scholarship Scams

Keep in mind that scholarships are there to give you money, not to take it from you. If you see questionable scholarships that require you to pay for a “submission fee,” avoid them. Also, claims like “it’s guaranteed or take your money back” or “you have been pre-selected” are red flags of a shady transaction. Real scholarship opportunities will never ask money from you, whether it’s for a submission fee or a registration fee. 

12. Go Over your Public Social Media 

This is an issue for some applicants, especially if your social media is filled with postings that are not supposed to be there. Just like any other prospective employers, committee members of a scholarship grant will check their applicants. To be safe, your social media has to exude professionalism. 

It’s not a surprise today to hear scholarship organizers asking you for your social media profile link. It takes any no-brainer to understand why. So make sure your social media profiles will help you boost your application. 

US College Scholarships You Can Apply in 2021

Applying for a college scholarship is a number game. The more you apply, the higher your chances are of actually winning. The secret to winning a scholarship is to apply at the earliest possible time. Here are some of the college scholarships you can apply for in 2021.

The Footlocker $20,000 Scholarship

Deadline: January 8, 2021

Foot Locker has been awarding potential incoming freshman college students with a $20,000 scholarship funding for a 4-year college degree for ten years straight. The award is not because a student scored the most goals and touchdowns during their high school years, but because sports have developed them into becoming good leading in the schools and communities. Twenty lucky winners will be chosen, and as a bonus, one winner will receive the Ken C. Hicks Scholarship grant for showing exceptional educational achievement, a true love of the game, and being an outstanding leader. He gets an additional $5,000 (for a total of $25,000.

Applicants are assessed based on the Foot Locker Scholar Athlete material. A candidate must be motivated, proactive, charismatic, inspiring, honest, genuine, trustworthy, courageous, and strong. Furthermore, aspiring applicants must show good sportsmanship, a strong moral character, and be committed and passionate about empowering his/her community. 

Scholars Helping Collars Scholarship

Deadline: February 28, 2021

This is a $1,500 scholarship grant available to qualified high school seniors. To qualify, you need to submit a well-written essay to detail all your volunteer efforts in helping animals in need and how those efforts have changed your outlook in life and shaped your perceptions on how animal welfare is so important. 

Paradigm Challenge 

Deadline: May 1, 2021

This scholarship is open to students up to 18 years old. To apply, you should work on something original and creative to help solve problems in schools, communities, your home, and even around the world. With a $100,000 award amount, you can work alone or with a team, and entries must come in either form of inventions, videos, community events, messages, mobile apps, websites, or anything that will successfully help save lives. You should also forward a summary of your idea (around 140 characters or less) to qualify. 

Silver Medal with Distinction Portfolio Award

Deadline: Varies

The Silver Medal with Distinction Portfolio Award is for graduating high school students whose previous works have gained national recognition. You have to submit an extensive portfolio of at least 8 written works that demonstrate technical skill, originality, and a personal voice to quality. With an award amount of $1,000, the entry has to demonstrate diversity in writing style and technique. 

Optimist International Oratorical Contest

Deadline: Varies

To qualify, students must be under 19. Here, you have to prepare a 5-minute speech on “How My Passions Impact the World.” With $2,500 at stake, this speech will be presented at your local Optimist Club’s contest.

George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest 

Deadline: Varies

With prize money of $500-$2,000, this essay contest is open to high school seniors and first-year college students. To join, you have to create an 800-1200 word essay that discusses an event, philosophy, a person, or a general idea depicting the American Revolution, the framing of the US constitution, or the Declaration of Independence. Entries are judged on clarity of thoughts, historical accuracy, grammar and spelling, organization and proven topic, and over-all documentation. 

Where to Apply for a College Scholarship

There are three ways you can do to find the best scholarship opportunities:

  • Loot at your hobbies from another perspective. Did you ever think about how your interests and hobbies can help you pay for your college expenses? There are several college scholarships practically for everyone: gamers, crafters, vegans, Trekkies, green thumps– you name it! Scholarships are not just for the smart and sharp or all-star athletes. Check your hobbies and find out if there is something you can do to generate something productive out of it.
  • Take advantage of free scholarship search tools. These tools will guide you into finding the most suitable scholarships that match your interests, activities, and skills. 
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  • Seek advice from your school counselor. Find time to discuss your college plans with your school counselor and ask them for scholarship opportunities ideal for you. Chances are, your counselor will have a few things up his sleeves. It’s also best to keep your ear and eyes open in your community. Who knows, you might end up finding scholarships through your job, your church, or even to your parents’ jobs.

When to Apply for Scholarships

Ideally, you should apply for college scholarships early on. There are scholarships with deadlines as early as one year before you start college. Don’t wait to make a final decision about which school you wish to apply to. However, if you missed some early scholarship applications, you can still find other opportunities with varying deadlines. 

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Despite the ever-increasing cost of college, enrolling is still worth it. Having a college degree will certainly be one of the best investments you can ever make. It is indeed expensive to attend college, and that is why finding and applying for scholarships are crucial to guarantee that you won’t end up struggling with huge student loan dues upon graduation. Today, scholarships are no longer deemed as bonuses. They play critical roles in bridging the gap between the expensive college costs and your capacity to pay them out of your pocket.