How To Get a Scholarship for College in 9 Simple Steps


Last updated December 7, 2023

Contrary to popular belief, student loans and financial aid are not the only ways to pay for your college education. Private and public scholarships allow students to collect additional funds to explore extracurricular activities such as studying abroad, advancing their education with a master’s degree, or simply reducing their overall living expenses while attending college.

Prospective students should learn how to get a scholarship for college in order to start with as little debt as possible. The comfort this provides will help you stress less about finances, thus allowing you to focus more on your studies.

Although scholarship applications may require more effort than student loan applications, they can be just as beneficial. More than 1.7 million scholarships are awarded to college students annually. And, unlike student loans, they don’t need to be paid back. So, how do you claim a piece of the more than $6 billion in scholarship money each year?

We’ll take you step-by-step through how to get a scholarship for college so you can get a head start on your education with less stress.

1) Research Available Scholarships

It can be challenging to find out how to get a scholarship for college when so many scholarships are available! Luckily, there are scholarship search engines and databases that make the process easier. Websites like Fastweb and Scholarships collect all scholarships into one database that can be filtered based on eligibility and other factors, such as grade-point average or majors of study.

These scholarship sites will connect you to all the possibilities; however, identifying local, state, and institution-specific scholarships may increase your chances of winning the scholarship award. These scholarships are awarded to students who live in a specific geographic region or attend specific high schools, churches, clubs, and colleges. Since the applicant pool is smaller than worldwide or national scholarships, the odds of winning are in your favor. 

It’s important to understand how to get a college scholarship based on specific criteria. Scholarships are awarded to applicants who meet or exceed the outlined eligibility criteria in the application. Eligibility will vary by scholarship; however, standard measures include GPA, test scores, gender, race/ethnicity, household income and your background (such as where your parents work or if you are a military family).

Don’t wait until the last minute to apply! The best time to start researching how to get a scholarship for college and the many options available is between your junior and senior years of high school. Many scholarship application deadlines end a year before college begins.

2) Prepare a Strong Academic Profile

Though you may wait until your final year of high school to learn how to get a college scholarship, you’ve been preparing for it since your first year. A strong academic profile, with a good grade-point average, class ranking and test scores is essential not only for applying to your college of choice but also for earning the scholarships to pay for it. A student’s GPA is the most common metric for distinguishing scholarship award winners.

However, it’s not all about the numbers. Taking more challenging courses offered at your high school, such as Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or dual-enrollment college classes is equally impressive. Participation in extracurricular activities, like clubs, organizations, and athletics, while maintaining a good GPA in a challenging course schedule shows you have a well-rounded and mature approach to juggling multiple responsibilities.

Finally, learning how to get a scholarship for college with the help of teachers and mentors is possible. Some scholarships require that you submit letters of recommendation from adults who can speak to your aptitude and attitude. You may ask your favorite teacher, a school counselor, a manager at your job, or a leader in an organization you work with.

3) Showcase Your Achievements and Talents

As you research how to get a college scholarship, you’ll learn that your notable achievements and talents should be highlighted! Winning a scholarship is all about standing out amongst the other applicants. Highlight any academic awards, honors, or special recognitions you’ve earned in high school. Similarly, if you’ve demonstrated excellence in volunteer work, sports, arts, music, or other special talents, now is the time to brag!

Showcase your accomplishments in a compelling resume or portfolio. Preparing this document makes it easy to share when applying for multiple scholarships or requesting references from teachers and mentors. Remember, this is all about you and your achievements; you don’t need to be humble!

4) Write an Impressive Scholarship Essay

Some scholarships require you to write an essay based on a specific prompt, often related to the subject of the scholarship. For example, if you’re applying for a scholarship granted to a member of your high school band, the essay prompt may be related to how music has impacted your life.

This is one aspect of getting a college scholarship that is uniquely personal to you. You will have the chance to tell a compelling and authentic personal story showcasing your passions, interests, or knowledge of a subject. There have been instances when a passionate and moving scholarship essay moved an application to the top of the stack, above other applicants with more impressive academic profiles.

When you’ve finished writing your essay, it’s wise to ask a trusted friend, adult, or mentor to proofread it. Be sure you followed all aspects of the essay prompt, including requirements like page length or document format, so you don’t waste time submitting an ineligible application.

5) Complete Scholarship Applications Carefully

Speaking of wasting time, one major tip we give when asked how to get a college scholarship is this – pay attention to the details of the scholarship application and follow all of the instructions. In fact, read them twice (or more) and have another person look over them to confirm you’re following all instructions to a tee.

Ensure you’ve collected all the required documents and materials needed to apply. Standard documents include a course transcript, test scores, a resume or portfolio, an essay, and references. Plan to submit the application days before the deadline if you need extra time to collect additional documents.

6) Apply for FAFSA and Financial Aid

When you ask how to get a college scholarship, you’ll hear the term FAFSA mentioned frequently. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a financial aid application that allows students to be considered for institutional, federal, and state aid which includes: grants, loans, and work-study. If you are a South Carolina resident, the FAFSA must be submitted by June 30th of each year to determine South Carolina Tuition Grant eligibility.  

You can earn other types of financial aid alongside scholarships, such as student loans, grants, and work-study.

  • Student loans must be paid.
  • Grants, like scholarships, don’t need to be repaid but are based on financial need.
  • Work-study allows part-time employees to earn money through a job on campus.

Understand that your overall financial aid package cannot exceed the amount of cost of attendance, which is determined by the Office of Financial Aid.

7) Research Local and Community Organizations

How to get a scholarship for college on a local level can be impactful if you have relationships with organizations and leaders in the community. Local scholarships from your hometown church, faith community, local businesses or organizations near you may be available. Check with your network to stay connected to opportunities that may arise locally.

Remain close with your school counselor, who may be one of the first to be alerted of new local scholarship opportunities. Your local Chamber of Commerce is also an excellent resource for finding business and organization-granted scholarships.

8) Merit-Based vs. Need-Based Scholarships

If you’re still wondering how to get a scholarship for college, you should consider merit-based and need-based scholarships. 

Merit-based scholarships are awarded to students based on academic, athletic, artistic, leadership or special-interest achievement unrelated to financial need. At Furman, students don’t apply for merit-based aid. The Admissions Office determines how much merit aid they will receive when admitted.

Need-based scholarships, however, are awarded to students with financial need. The CSS Profile is required at Furman if you wish to apply for institutional need-based aid. The FAFSA determines federal need-based aid. 

Identify scholarships that align with your strengths and your needs to improve your chances of earning scholarship money. You must provide proof of financial need and achievement for these scholarships.

9) Stay Persistent and Apply Widely

When researching how to get a college scholarship, you’ll learn quickly that it takes time and patience. Securing scholarships requires more effort than checking a box and filling out your name. You’ll need to apply focus and hard work to increase your chances of winning scholarship awards.

Another way to increase your chances of winning a scholarship is to apply for multiple scholarships. Identify as many as possible, as long as you qualify under the requirements, and allocate quiet time to perfect your application for each one. If you qualify for many scholarships, prioritize the applications you feel most confident about winning.

Know that you will not win every scholarship you apply for – and that’s okay. Each application is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and improve your application skills. Like interviewing for a job, practice makes perfect, and you’ll find the right one.

What Scholarships Can I Get at Furman?

From institutional scholarships to a database of outside scholarship resources, there are several ways Furman can help you as you’re pursuing scholarships. We understand that applying for and assessing financial aid can be intimidating and, at times, confusing, so we’ve prepared a list of financial aid FAQs to help guide you.

Enrolled students at Furman can apply to over 14,000 vetted possible outside scholarship resources through Scholarship Universe. It is a single sign-on process through Workday. Scholarship Universe is a resource that is available only to currently enrolled Furman students.

Our goal is to inform and educate you on your choices so that you will be better prepared for making a long-term investment in your education. Contact us to talk to one of our financial aid office professionals.

The views and opinions expressed in the Furman Blog are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Furman University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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