College Scholarships Do’s and Don’ts

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Most college-bound high school students and current college students know the hard facts about college — both good and bad.

The good: Studies show college graduates have much higher lifetime earnings and lead healthier and longer lives than those who do not attend college. Furthermore, many of the 21st century jobs and jobs of the future require a minimum of a college education.

The bad: While politicians talk about making college more affordable, the reality is that college is a big and expensive investment. Worse, college costs keep rising — much faster than inflation — and there is no end in sight. The average annual cost of college in the U.S. is now around $30,000 (though at many public colleges and universities costs, especially for in-state residents, are much cheaper).

While the rising cost of college may discourage you, a source of money is out there — actually thousands of sources totaling billions of dollars — that college students can tap into to help pay for college… money you never have to pay back. That source? It’s scholarships, of course. (Depending on the college you attend, you may still need some student loans, but finding scholarships to pay for as much of your college education as possible should certainly be your first strategy.)

Various types of scholarships exist, including those offered by individual colleges based on athletics, financial need, and academics — but the scholarships that offer the average student much greater potential (partly because a chunk of them are relatively unknown and have few applicants) are scholarships offered by organizations not affiliated with any college (which also makes them applicable to the college of your choice).

Just about every type of organization imaginable has become involved in providing scholarships to worthy students, from private corporations and foundations to religious and civic groups. You can find scholarships that are awarded to students based on academic performance, major area of study, artistic talents, hobbies and interests, geographic location, religious affiliation, ethnic heritage and race, and even gender.

So, what are some of the rules (and advice) — some of the key do’s and don’ts — of applying for scholarships?

Here are some key tips and guidelines for college-bound students to remember when searching for — and applying to — scholarships.

  • Do use multiple sources for finding potential scholarships, such as your high-school guidance office or college’s financial aid office, your high-school teachers or college professors, your network of contacts, as well as books, magazines, and Websites.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be scammed by one of the several (many?) organizations that claim that they will find you guaranteed scholarship money — just as soon as you send them a large “processing” fee. As with all things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is a scam. Do always read the fine-print.
  • Do start your scholarship search early — typically a year ahead of time. While scholarship deadlines vary, each scholarship application is different and will require time and effort to complete before those deadlines.
  • Don’t just apply to one or two scholarships, assuming you’ll get one or both of them. The more scholarships you apply for (assuming you meet all the qualifications), the more likely you’ll be awarded at least one. And don’t ignore small scholarships; every scholarship dollar you get is a dollar you did not have and one less you need to borrow.
  • Do plan on committing a fair amount of time and energy, both to finding scholarship opportunities and then to carefully completing the applications for each opportunity.
  • Don’t ignore scholarships offered by organizations in your hometown, such as the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, and the American Legion.
  • Do look closely at the companies where you or your family members work, as many corporations offer scholarships to their employees and their employee’s dependents. And if someone is a member of a labor union, research whether union-sponsored scholarships are available.
  • Don’t let your year in college stop you from applying for scholarships — even if you did not need one (or learn about obtaining them) until your junior or senior year. While some scholarships are targeted to students in a particular class, most are open to any college student.
  • Do spend the time to find as many scholarships opportunities as possible — and don’t make assumptions about any of them based on their name or the organization sponsoring them. (For example, the American Dairy Association scholarship does not require you to drink milk or live on a dairy farm.)
  • Don’t assume that you aren’t qualified for any scholarships or that you don’t have anything special that makes you worthy of a scholarship. Scholarships are truly available for everyone — you just need to conduct enough research to find those with criteria that fit you.
  • Do take the time to read each scholarship application instructions carefully — and then do follow those instructions exactly. Use the same care for scholarships as you did for college applications.
  • Don’t forget to carefully spell-check, edit, and proofread each scholarship packet before you submit it. When possible, do have someone else proofread your applications to help assure that you have no mistakes. (Your application is your one chance to make an impression on the folks who will decide who deserves their scholarship money.)
  • Do all you can to keep your grades up. While not all scholarships are based on your grade-point-average, many will automatically disqualify you if you do not have a certain level of academic performance — and will end your scholarship if your GPA drops below a certain level.

Final Thoughts on Finding/Earning Scholarships

Remember that the more work you put into finding scholarships, the better the chances you’ll be awarded at least one scholarship — resulting in less money you owe your college each year.

Start your online search for scholarships on this section of Quintessential Careers: Scholarship and Financial Aid Resources for College and College-Bound Students.

Finally, find books that will assist you in locating scholarships in this section of our online bookstore: Teen Career, College, and Job Books.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Founder Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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