Students who are seeking scholarships can easily be overwhelmed as they dive into their applications. When is it due? When will I hear back? Will I get a check in the mail? Who can I ask for letters of recommendation? How much does my grade point average matter? If I don’t meet the criteria should I apply? I hear all of these questions and hundreds more as I encounter students who are trying to pay for college. In this and other articles, I will answer your scholarship questions!

First, let me tell you what to expect as you begin applying for scholarships:

Expectation #1:

Scholarship providers expect, and welcome, applicants who meet the criteria. Scholarship providers are very specific in their criteria and they create criteria for a reason. If you do not meet the criteria, do not apply. You are wasting time that is better spent on other scholarships.

Expectation #2:

You should expect to share some personal information about your background, academic status and goals for the future. Sometimes, providers want someone else to vouch for you through a nomination process or a letter of recommendation. While each scholarship application is different, the majority of requested information is the same across applications. Once you gather that initial information and organize it, the process will go more quickly for you.

Expectation #3:

You should not expect to win just because you meet the criteria. In fact, the majority of scholarship applicants do not win, and they confuse eligibility criteria with award criteria. Eligibility criteria are the factors used to determine who can apply. Award criteria, or judging criteria, are the factors used to determine who, among the eligible applicants, rises to the top.

Expectation #4:

You should expect to hear back from the scholarship providers within a few weeks or a few months of the deadline if you were selected as a recipient. It depends on the size and scope of the scholarship program. Large national programs can take months to review thousands of applications and narrow down the list of scholarship recipients, whereas smaller local programs might be able to make their decision in 4-8 weeks. If you are unsure, just ask them, “When will you announce the scholarship awards?” Be aware that scholarship committees might not have the time to contact every applicant and might only contact the people selected to receive the scholarship. If you are not sure about the announcement process then check the sponsor’s website for details.

Expectation #5:

If a sponsor chooses you to receive a scholarship, you should expect to sign a verification form or other document that recognizes you as the official recipient (but not always). The funds should arrive at or very near the start of classes. If the scholarship is directly from the University, you will receive a discount applied towards your tuition, as opposed to an actual scholarship check. Private scholarship providers might send the check to the college to be credited to your student account. Very rarely will a scholarship provider send a check directly to your home. No matter how you receive the funds, you are obligated to report the funds as part of your financial aid.

These are some basic expectations as you go through the scholarship process. To gather other helpful tips and advice, be sure to check out other articles from the Center for Scholarship Excellence (CSE).