How to Apply for a Scholarship in the U.S.

There’s no doubt that attending college in the U.S. is expensive. Unlike some other countries -- namely Germany and others in the European Union -- college is an out-of-pocket cost. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college costs, including tuition and room and board, were about $14,300 for public colleges, $37,800 for private non-profit colleges, and $23,300 for private for-profit colleges as of the 2011-2012 school year.

With the cost of college climbing every year, your four or more years of study are really going to add up.

That’s where scholarships can really come in handy. Whether you’re aiming for a small $500 local scholarship or a full ride, here’s how to get started applying for scholarships in the U.S.

Take assessment tests

Colleges in the U.S. use either the ACT or the SAT standardized tests to gauge your abilities and aptitude for university study, but scholarship providers might look at them as well. The first step is to find out whether the schools you hope to attend look at ACT scores, SAT scores, or either one, and then take the appropriate test. As a general rule, the SAT is more about vocabulary, while the ACT covers more advanced math and includes a science section, which the SAT does not.

See what’s out there

The next step is to find out what scholarships are out there for you to apply for. Talk to your school guidance counselor, who will typically have access to information about local scholarships. Also consult the schools you hope to attend to find out whether they have any scholarships. Numerous online databases catalogue and categorize scholarships, sorting them by ethnicity, area of study, and grade point average, for example, helping you narrow down your options. Also complete a Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) through the U.S. Department of Education, as you may also qualify for federal grants or other aid.

Study requirements and deadlines

With some scholarships in mind, read the requirements for each scholarship carefully -- and be sure to start well ahead of time. Some donors award scholarships months or even as much as a year before your period of study, meaning you’ll have to turn in your application long before you plan to use the money. Whatever the requirements for the scholarship, follow them to the letter or you’ll risk having your application discarded.

Assemble the materials you’ll need

Typical materials include your high school transcripts, personal essays, recommendations from teachers, financial information from your parents, and your SAT or ACT scores. Some of these materials, such as your transcripts, may take time to acquire, so don’t wait to the last minute to get everything together.

Get help with your essays and applications

Before you mail or email your application materials to the scholarship entity, have your parents or a guidance counselor review everything for you. You want to make sure your essays are well-written and meaningful, as well as being free of grammatical errors or typos. A second or even a third pair of eyes on your application and accompanying materials can help you avoid simple mistakes.

With your tests taken, your research done and your application materials submitted, it’s time to cross your fingers and wait for what will hopefully be a positive response.


Image courtesy CollegeDegrees360, Flickr




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