A Comprehensive Guide to College Scholarships

Last updated Jan 11, 2024 

Congrats! You’ve made it through the end of college application season. Whether you’ve already been accepted or you’re just waiting to find out what happens next, it’s never too late to earn more money for college. Big or small, mainstream or niche, scholarships can play an important role in making your college dreams come true without the burden of debt at the end of it. In this scholarship guide, learn when to apply, how to research scholarships, what to do to stand out, how to navigate what comes after you apply, and how to manage your scholarship funds.

Scholarship Timeline

Students can start applying to scholarships even before senior year, so juniors, sophomores and even younger students should consider investigating scholarships during winter or spring breaks just to get an idea of what’s out there and possibly even start adding some initial funds to their college piggy banks. Scholarship searches should become more of a routine in junior year, so make a plan to spend at least two hours during winter break to research scholarships. Then, by the time students are rising seniors, set aside at least an hour a week to identify and apply for scholarships with fall application deadlines. Keep in mind that deadlines can be throughout the year, so even if you don’t apply by the major deadline months of October and December, you can still apply during peak scholarship season between January and May. Plan on finalizing your scholarship list by the end of the year and focus on working on applications during spring break. 

Researching Scholarships

As you approach your scholarship search, keep one thing in mind: there’s no scholarship that’s too small or too weird to be worth a try. Obviously, the bigger the value of a scholarship, the better. However, small scholarships are a great way to cover college costs besides tuition, housing, and food. Plus, the students who apply for more scholarships boost their odds of winning. Start scholarship shopping by taking advantage of online resources like the College Board’s Scholarship Directory, the U.S. Labor Department’s CareerOneStop, FastWeb, JLV College Counseling, Unigo, and BrokeScholar. School counselors are another resource for scholarship opportunities, especially scholarships offered by local businesses, clubs, and non-profit organizations. Once you know where you are applying, you can also look directly at each college’s website to see what scholarships they offer. Deadlines to apply for these scholarships vary: some might be the same date as the application deadline while others might require you to apply early action, for example. 

Application Advice

  • Fill out the FAFSA. To receive financial aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will establish your financial need.
  • Stay organized. Create a document or spreadsheet to keep track of scholarships that sound promising along with important information: award amount, submission requirements, deadlines, etc. Pay attention to any instructions for submitting applications, too. There may be several deadlines to mark on your calendar or essay formatting rules to follow. Add key dates on your calendar to prevent procrastination and guarantee that documents like transcripts and recommendation letters are requested with plenty of advance notice.
  • Write essays that stand out. Essay requirements can be intimidating, but if you invest in writing just a few essays, it will pay off: you will have essays you can repurpose for different prompts and the more you write, the easier it will become. The trick to writing a stellar scholarship essay is to tell your story as authentically and clearly as you can while also demonstrating a commitment to the goals of the organization offering the scholarship, so dig deep, get personal, avoid slang, proofread, and do your homework on the scholarship provider.
  • Be considerate and professional. Each time you communicate with a scholarship provider is an opportunity to make an impression, so make a good one. Your emails, phone calls, and essays should steer clear of emojis and use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Send thank you notes to scholarship providers and anyone else who helped you apply.

After Applying

As soon as you start applying for scholarships, the waiting game begins. While you wait, consider sending a follow up email a week after submitting your application to confirm that your application has been received. A month or two after a deadline is about the time scholarship providers will contact selected recipients. If you don’t hear anything by that time, assume you weren’t selected. While missing out on a scholarship is disappointing, it’s not a wasted opportunity. If you reach out to scholarship providers or committees to solicit feedback on your application, any advice you receive may help you win the next one. Don’t give up! Keep searching for and applying for scholarships to give yourself as many options as possible, which also means keeping your grades up and finding new ways to impress scholarship committees with your extracurricular activities and volunteer work.

Managing Scholarship Money

Whether you earn one scholarship directly from colleges or several scholarships from outside organizations, it’s your job to make the most of it. For example, students who secured scholarships from colleges shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate. Contact the admissions office and let them know what offers you’ve received from other schools to see if they are open to giving more money to persuade you to choose them over the competition. Also, keep in mind that outside scholarships can affect your financial aid package if the amount of aid you receive is excess of $300 or more of your calculated need. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with your school’s scholarship policy and report any outside scholarship you receive. Once you know exactly what money will be available, remember that these funds are flexible. Although some scholarships can only be used to pay tuition, most award money can be allocated to any cost associated with college: computers, transportation, textbooks, housing, groceries, and more.

How A+ Can Help

You don’t have to be top of the class or an athlete to earn scholarship money for anything from tuition to toothpaste. Get started early and keep going even if you can’t win them all or class is already in session. If you do your research, have an open mind, and pay attention to the details, the effort is worth it: the more you apply, the easier it gets and the more chances you have to be rewarded! If you need help along the way, A+ Test Prep and Tutoring is here for you. We offer College Essay Editing services, which also includes support for scholarship application essays. Plus, improve your chances of winning a scholarship by completing a test prep program to increase your test scores or try academic tutoring to boost your GPA. Start the next chapter of your life with no regrets. Scholarships are one opportunity future college students don’t want to miss. 

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, we can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at office@aplustutoring.com.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What They're Saying


Contact Us


A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Philadelphia

505 York Road, Suite 6, Jenkintown PA 19046

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring -- Montgomeryville

593-1 Bethlehem Pike, Unit #4, Montgomeryville PA 18936