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Phoenix Forward magazine

How to improve your odds of winning scholarships

Winning scholarships

Scholarships are free money, but not easy money. Applying takes time, research and patience.

With more than $3.4 billion in scholarships awarded each year, students should take the opportunity to apply for as many as they think they are eligible for so they have the best possible odds of obtaining money for school, says Tammie Yong, director of scholarships for University of Phoenix.

And, she cautions, you shouldn’t wait until your tuition bill is due to seek extra cash. Cast a wide net and commit time on a regular basis to research and prepare scholarship applications year-round.

“If it takes an hour to submit an application, and you receive $500, that means you just made $500 an hour,” Yong notes, emphasizing that no scholarship is too small. A $500 award can defray the cost of textbooks. And, she says, the more scholarships you go after, the more expertise you’ll gain to compete for larger monetary awards.

Here’s how you can help increase your chances of getting scholarships: 

Do your homework.

“Take a close look at the criteria and make sure it describes your interests, qualifications and experiences,” Yong says. “One of the biggest mistakes students make is applying to scholarships they’re not eligible for.”

Urban legend has it that many scholarships go unawarded every year, adds Amanda Hendricks, University manager for external scholarships. “It’s simply not true,” she emphasizes, “so don’t waste your time. Selection committees do not make exceptions to their criteria just to randomly award funds.”

There are plenty of scholarships that can be a good match for you, she notes. To increase your odds of earning even a small award, she recommends that you first seek local and special-interest scholarships.

Share your personal story.

Almost every scholarship application requires an essay or two. “The essays are an opportunity for the selection committee to meet you and hear your voice,” Hendricks says.

“Answer each essay question thoroughly,” she adds, “but remember, it’s not an academic paper. Tell your story in first person. Explain how a specific challenge or success has impacted your life and share your emotions about it.” A compelling essay, she points out, can add the “wow factor” to an otherwise average submission.

Line up your references.

In addition to an essay, many scholarship programs require references from colleagues, friends or faculty members, so give them ample time to provide what you need. If you wait until the last minute, Yong says, your references might not be as thorough as you’d like — or you might miss your application deadline.


Follow directions.

The best way to increase your chances of being awarded a scholarship is to follow all instructions and proofread your application several times, Yong and Hendricks agree.

After working hard to compile information for your submission, the last thing you want is for it to be rejected because you didn’t label a document appropriately, forgot to include your transcripts or wrote essays longer than the maximum word count.

Yong recommends recruiting family and friends to help review your application. University students may get help through the scholarship essay service, available from the Center for Writing Excellence.

Opportunities are available year-round for University students, Hendricks adds. You can check the University scholarship website regularly for updated internal and external scholarship programs, as well as more tips and tools.