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After completing my senior year of high school and reflecting on the experience of financial aid there were a few things I wish I had known six months ago. Not everything about the process is obvious and the adults in your life play a big part in it, so not only do you need to be prepared but you need to prepare them as well (especially if you have no older siblings who have already been through the process).

1. Start looking for scholarships during the summer of your junior year.

During the first half of your senior year most of your time is spent working on college essays and perfecting them. Taking the time out of your busy schedule to have to find scholarships that you qualify for can be a real hassle. By taking the time out of your summer work and pool partying to find scholarships you can apply for it really lessens the stress you experience during your senior year.

It’s also great to start in the summer because some scholarships have early deadlines. By finding scholarships in the summer that have deadlines such as October 15th you’ll be prepared and have plenty of time to write an essay or get those extra community service hours in so that you can qualify.

2. Don’t be lazy and actually write those essays.

This tip is majorly important. I often found myself not wanting to fill out any applications that required essays because honestly, with all of the school work and college applications I had no desire whatsoever to write any more essays, but that’s exactly what every one else was thinking.

For the applications that I didn’t write essays for, I spent extra time and got none of the scholarships. Yet, if I took the extra time to write the essay, I at least made it to the second round if not all the way to the end and was awarded the scholarships. It’s important that you spend at least 30 minutes writing the essay and another solid 15 proof writing before you submit it. If you only spend 5 minutes writing the essay it’s likely it’s full of mistakes and missing important details you wanted to include.

3. Continually apply to scholarships.

Definitely do not stop applying to scholarships just because you applied to a few. There are scholarships that you can apply to at all times of the year. Some of the scholarships don’t even open up until you’re nearly done with high school or even in the summer after you’ve graduated.

For example, I found a scholarship during April where the deadline was in the middle of May, a time when people think most scholarships are gone. After taking a break from applying for a few months, I got out of the swing of things and it was much harder to begin applying again.  Also, there are some scholarships such as those through ROTC for individuals interested in military careers that open up in the spring and you need your teachers help in order to complete them.

4. There are loopholes.

While this may not work for all scholarships some do not actually care about every thing they place in the requirement section. If the company is low on applicants they are willing to accept nearly every applicant they can get, so if you contact them, you may be able to still be considered after applying. For example, some scholarships that are exclusively for Latin@ youth may accept your application if you can prove that you are committed to the same principles as the organization and have extracurricular activities that promote diversity and acceptance of minorities.

5. Scholarships are for almost anything.

There are tall people scholarships, short people scholarships, people with red hair scholarships, people with brown hair scholarships and probably even people who wear miss matched sock scholarships. It’s really good when you are looking for scholarships to google things that describe you in any way shape or form. If you know what major you’re going into there are often tons of scholarships specifically for the major which helps to narrow down the pool of applicants and thus your chances. For example there are scholarships exclusively for women going into engineering which is a very small population in the united states.

All in all, start early on your scholarship search. You’ll never know how many scholarship essays you’ll need to write, but keep on writing them; it’s worth it. A few final words of advice: follow all deadlines, make sure your parents/guardians file taxes as early as possible, and most importantly, try your best not to be lazy.

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