When Should I Start Applying for Scholarships?

The cost of attending collegem is prohibitive for many families, so that applying for scholarships has become an essential part of the college planning process. As of 2015, the College Board reports that in-state tuition for a public college averaged $24,061 while tuition at a moderately priced private college averaged $47,831. These costs do not include expenses for books, supplies, room and board. The key to affording college is to give due attention to finding and winning scholarship money from various sources.

Qualifying for Scholarships

The criteria for winning scholarships are defined by the organization granting the funds. Some scholarships are strictly need-based, which means you have to be prepared to present documentation of your family’s financial state. Some of these scholarships may limit which colleges you can attend.

Other scholarships are merit-based, so you would have show proof of outstanding academic achievement, including stellar grades in college-level courses, high scores in the SAT and ACT and enough extra-curricular activities to demonstrate leadership qualities. Private scholarships may have criteria that combine academic and leadership credentials with financial need. S

ome of these scholarships may focus on specific programs of study in line with the sponsoring organization’s brand or mission.

Finding Scholarship Programs

Your first source of information will be the guidance office at your school if you are a high school student seeking college admission. You will most likely be given information on standard scholarship programs such as the National Merit Scholarship that awards a sum of money to seniors scoring in the top 1 percent on the SATs. The benchmarks vary from year-to-year and state-to-state, but you must qualify as a semifinalist with SAT scores in your junior year that meet the declared cutoff for the school year in your state.

Similar merit programs provide cash awards based on your academic standing and a strong application demonstrating your leadership and communication abilities. These programs are typically open to high school students starting in the 10th grade. Awards may be granted but access will be pended until you enroll in college. Scholarship programs have annual deadlines determined by the program sponsors.

You can also reach out to the financial aid offices of your target colleges. Qualifying for a scholarship may be part of the application form or it may be a separate screening process. In either case, admissions officers may have information on deadlines, but you may also contact the sponsoring organization for details.

Applying for Scholarships is a Process

It is very important to take the scholarship application process seriously and to start the search as early as 9th grade. Some of these programs grant scholarship money through essay contests or completion of science, engineering and other projects.

Scholarship sponsors seek candidates every year, and the requirements are simple to complete. Local organizations typically have simple requirements to qualify and would not be as competitive as national programs because of the local residency requirement. These organizations include chambers of commerce, local businesses, religious organizations, clubs, foundations and professional associations that would include local chapters of national groups. School districts and local government agencies may also provide scholarship grants as part of their community outreach programs.

Qualifying for scholarship grants takes commitment of time and resources. It helps if you start the research process early so that you can adjust your focus and strategies as you get closer to the college admission process. For college-bound students, applying for scholarships may determine if you can pursue your degree at the college of your choice. With various pathways to finding funds, you should be able to win some awards if you make the effort.

Related Reading: What is the Difference Between Grants, Scholarships and Loans?