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By Kevin Ladd
Copy eligible scholarships into a spreadsheet with columns for criteria you'd like to use to sort your options.
It is almost January, and that means tons of scholarship applications will be opening for students from high school freshmen all the way through college seniors and beyond.
For those of you who are seniors in high school, the number of scholarships for which you qualify is likely to be in the hundreds.
If you have been reading my blog posts or other articles I have written, you are probably familiar with the refrain of "early and often." which is my scholarship mantra. Start early, search, edit, update and apply. Often.
However, if you qualify for hundreds of scholarships and cannot find the time to apply to them all, how do you figure out which ones to go after?
That is going to depend upon your personal profile like your strengths and interests will greatly inform which opportunities are the best suited to you and to which scholarships you should apply. That said, here are some guidelines that hopefully will help you as you navigate the process.
1. Conduct a free scholarship search: This only takes a few minutes of your time and will give you an idea of what is available. It will also personalize the process to ensure you qualify for the scholarships presented to you upon completion of the search. Take the time to accurately and thoroughly answer the match questions for the best results. This will be the foundation for the entire process.
You can also build your list by asking your guidance counselor and researching local opportunities, combing all the bulletin boards in any public building such as your local library and asking your parents whether their employer offers scholarships. The next step is where you will sort out the ones most ideally suited to you and most likely to be the best, most productive use of your time.
2. Create a spreadsheet with all of the scholarships you have found: At this point you may have a list of 100, 200 or even more scholarships. This is good – you have lots of options. Don't be intimidated or overwhelmed. Options are a good thing to have.
Use whatever spreadsheet software is available to you and copy and paste all of the scholarships you are considering into your spreadsheet. Include columns for deadline dates for all of them and a place to indicate whether you have applied, plan to apply, etc. Save this list and back it up somewhere so you don't lose it.
Add columns for any criteria by which you would like to be able to sort your scholarship options. A good column to have is one indicating whether an essay, video or other special requirement is part of the scholarship application.
Then, you can sort these awards accordingly and see whether you might be able to use a single essay for more than one scholarship, for example, with only some minor editing between versions. This is going to be great for efficiency.
3. Find your method and order: This is completely up to you, but in the beginning, consider going after the scholarships with the largest dollar amount first. You should pick awards that are well suited to you, and your odds of winning should be weighed as well. Early on, though, you can be selective – so why not go for the big ones first?
There are some scholarships that award large dollar amounts. The Ron Brown Scholar Program, for example, offers African-American students a total of $40,000 over four years to go toward college expenses. The deadline to apply is Jan. 9.
The Paradigm Challenge offers cash prizes to the top 100 teams and awards range from $500 to the $100,000 grand prize. The current challenge asks students to find a way to prevent injuries and fatalities from home fires.
In addition to cash, a few of the top team members will also win a trip to the awards ceremony in Los Angeles. The deadline for submissions is May 1.
From this point, figure out what other scholarships really appeal to you. Some might be really easy or even fun projects that you can use for school as well. Part of the process, whatever your method, should be making notes on progress, both to help you stay organized and inspired. Sometimes looking back at all you have accomplished can build your confidence!
4. Apply: Don't get so caught up in the process that you never actually get around to applying. Even as you are organizing yourself to more efficiently do so, you can begin applying for those "slam dunk" opportunities right out of the gate. Just make a quick note when you do and you can return to your spreadsheet and add details.
You can't win scholarships if you don't apply for any, so be proactive and try not to let any of the deadlines pass on scholarships for which you would like to apply.