This is a guest post by blogger and personal development speaker Aileen Pablo.
Recent statistics from the Institute for College Access and Success show that the average college graduate will have acquired around $24,000 in student loans by the time they graduate, and this figure is expected to increase within the next couple of years.
Additionally, college graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find work in their chosen field, even for those with a healthcare management degree, and a rather disturbing report by the Associated Press found that nearly one in two college graduates is either jobless or underemployed.
A scholarship can mean the difference between a smooth transition from college life or years of struggling through a mediocre job just to pay off student loans. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that most students feel more than a just bit nervous when applying for a scholarship.
However with the right strategy and approach, you can greatly improve your chances of success. Here are a few tips and things to keep in mind as you begin the process of finding and applying for scholarships:
Start your search as early as possible
Finding the right scholarships can be a time consuming process and if you start your search too late, you may miss out on a fantastic scholarship simply because you missed the deadline.
Most scholarship deadlines are between November and May of the upcoming academic year, so start your search long before this time to identify scholarships you may be eligible for.
Not all scholarships will be right for you, and you probably won’t find the right ones immediately, so you will need to be persistent in your search. Don’t give up just because it take some time, remember; your future depends on it.
It can be encouraging to keep in mind that if you’ve put a lot of effort into finding the right scholarship, there is a good chance that there will be less competition, because most students give up looking far too early.
Pay close attention to formal and informal requirements
The only way to win a scholarship is to meet all the requirements, so don’t send in any applications until you have read and reread all the requirements, both formal and informal.
Find out who the sponsors are and what their goals are. Meeting the basic requirements is probably not enough to win you that scholarship; you need to stand out from the rest and try to make yourself the obvious choice by going above and beyond the minimum criteria.
Make your scholarship essays stand out
Writing your scholarship essays is what will probably take up the bulk of your time and energy, and as well it should. Your scholarship essay is your chance to present yourself in a good light and showcase your strengths and skills.
There are a few things you can do to improve the quality of your essay. First, take the time to learn about your audience, then read the scholarship contest mission and tailor your essay to match those descriptions.
Another good way to increase your chances of winning is to read through some of the essays that won in previous years, as this will give you a better insight into what they are looking for.
Also, never use abstract information. Instead, make it personal and use concrete examples that engage your readers. Find a way to work in your personal experiences and list some of your own accomplishments.
Choose referees wisely
You will be given a chance to list referees and ask for recommendation letters from those who know you. This is an important part of the application process, because people who have never met you will be relying on information from people who do know you to understand what you are like.
A good rule is not to ask family members to serve as referees as the references will hold less value if they come from someone you are related to. However, make sure that the person you are asking knows you well enough to make a detailed recommendation.
It could be a professor or mentor who has spent time working with you and coaching you, or it could be a former (or current) employer who is happy with the work you did for them. The referee should be familiar with your academic background as well as your personal interests, extracurricular activities and other aspects such as your leadership skills, etc.
One of the worst things you could do is put time and effort into finding the right scholarships and crafting a great essay only to submit your application full of simple errors like spelling mistakes or inaccurate information.
When a scholarship committee identifies such simple errors in your application, there is a good chance they will discard it without even reading it all the way through, for the simple reason that it makes you look sloppy and uninterested.
Before sending in any applications, make sure you proofread everything a number of times, checking that all your information is accurate, that there are no grammar or spelling errors and that it follows the correct format.
It’s always a good idea to proofread your essay a day after you finish writing it, because if you’ve been looking at something for too long, it’s easy to miss seeing even the most basic of mistakes. Asking someone you trust to proofread it for you is also a good idea, as they may be able to spot issues that you missed.
About the Author: Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges and InformED, one of Australia’s leading providers of Open Learning and distance education. When not working, Aileen blogs about education and career. She is often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines. If you are interested in featuring her works in your blog, you can find her on Google+.
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