How To Apply For and Win Scholarships

Finding and applying for scholarships can feel like a massive undertaking. Browsing for opportunities on the internet can drag on and on and potentially waste a lot of time. It is easy to feel exhausted and lost in the process. Our goal is to save time and find more money for students. With our strategic scholarship guide, you will be in a good position to find relevant scholarships. Along the way, I will also teach you how to use Google search functions and a little common sense to find (and win) valuable scholarships.

Like most things in life, using a system will help to stay organized and make sure nothing falls through the cracks as you look for funds. It’s very important to remember: scholarships are free money! This is money that you will not need to pay back. In some cases, scholarships are renewable or available again to qualifying recipients each year if conditions are met. For example, academic scholarships usually require maintaining a GPA above a certain score each year to continue to receive funds.

How Scholarships Work

Sometimes scholarships are awarded based on need. But most of the time scholarships are awarded based on abilities, achievements, or other personal and academic characteristics. Think about your own unique scenario and life experiences. Do you participate in any after school programs or clubs? Do you belong to any organizations in or out of school? Are you active in sports or perhaps the music scene? Are you a first-generation college student? Do you have any special talents or skills? What is something you are passionate about? What plans do you have for changing the world? Be prepared to self-reflect and write openly about your ideas and plans.

Because scholarships can offset such a large part of your educational investment, it is important to research the entities that grant scholarships. These can include organizations such as: schools (universities and colleges), government agencies and offices, private businesses and professional associations, religious groups and non-profits, academic organizations, and more.

Who Wins Scholarships

If you are already reading this guide, you are ahead of most people in the scholarship process. Right now you are investing time outside of school and work (maybe even your weekend) to look for scholarship money. Kudos and cheers to you. So who wins scholarships? Motivated, persistent, and creative people win scholarships. But in order to win scholarships, two things must happen. First of all, you must apply. The hardest part of a journey is the first step. Take the first step and apply for a scholarship. Secondly, you must have a competitive spirit. Some scholarships, as I mentioned above, will have academic and grade requirements. But not all. Part of your strategy will need to involve focusing on your particular strengths and achievements — whether in the classroom or not.

How To Stand Out

Scholarship funds are limited and thus competitive. That said, not all scholarships will have committees, but most will have some sort of formal review process to evaluate candidates. To help think about the process, put yourself in the shoes of a committee member. If you were to award thousands of dollars to an applicant, what would you look for? What would be a sign of a strong candidate versus a weaker candidate?

This may sound a bit cheesy, but my advice here is to break the mold. What I mean is, if there is an essay requirement, you need to write an interesting essay. There is a concept in sales and marketing known as a pattern interrupt. A pattern interrupt is when something manages to interrupt or disrupt our current train of thinking. In other words, when we are performing an activity, such as reviewing applications, we tend to fall into a mental autopilot. It would take something unexpected or unplanned to jostle us from this mindset.


Yes; your grades are critical for academic scholarships and meeting other minimum requirements. Having a strong GPA and SAT/ACT scores will be advantageous no matter your situation. The ACT is making some changes in 2020, such as partial retakes for subject area tests.

That said, your experiences and activities outside the classroom help paint a more full picture of yourself. If you don’t have a 4.0 GPA then don’t panic. You will be still be eligible for plenty of scholarships.

Work Smarter, Not Harder (Google Magic)

I don’t proclaim to be an expert in how Google works. But we can use some of their search operators to narrow search results to find specific scholarships to pursue.

We can start with the "keyword" intitle:scholarship trick. The goal here is to replace “keyword” with a scholarship category, such as: “psychology” and include intitle:scholarship to retrieve results that have the both “psychology” on the page and “scholarship” in the title of a web page. Here’s an example search query to copy and paste into Google’s search bar: "psychology" intitle:scholarship

Now, let’s take this a step further… and use the following operators to look for keyword specific scholarships on certain types of website domains (like .edu, .org, .gov, etc.). This is a powerful way to filter content and resources from different types of organizations. For example, if you are looking for a specific type of scholarship (e.g., military) that is offered from universities, you can use the following search structure: military scholarships site:edu

Alternatively, I could even look for economic scholarships offered from government organizations. For example, economics scholarships site:gov. And I can search multiple types of sites by combining with them an OR function: history major scholarships (site:edu OR site:org)

One more tip about searching for resources. Consider the file types. A lot of universities and organizations upload .pdf and .doc files to their sites when sharing information and links with others. By using the filetype: operator in your search, you can find some interesting scholarships that have been tucked away in documents or hidden from other normal searches on Google. Here’s an example that builds on something we learned earlier: robotics scholarhips filetype:pdf site:org

Types of Scholarships

Scholarship types vary widely. Use this to your advantage when planning for your applications. Here are a few very broad categories:

  • Athletic
  • Major Specific
  • Ethnicity/Race
  • Community Service
  • Gender Specific
  • Creative
  • First-generation
  • Random/off-beat

Check out our resource on no essay scholarships, but make sure you research programs thoroughly. Not every scholarship requires writing an essay.

A Numbers Game

There is a balance in applying to scholarships. But an obvious principle is to apply for as many scholarships as realistically possible. Some scholarships are worth $500 and others over $50,000. So invest your time accordingly. But remember, even small wins add up over time. Don’t feel discouraged if you lose a few. The more you apply for, the better your chances are of winning. Keep in mind, a lot of people are not aware of these scholarships and even fewer take the time and diligence to apply. Use that as motivation to continue the scholarship journey.

Use a calendar application or a text message reminder service to keep you alert of impending deadlines. There is not anything worse than working on a scholarship application or essay only to realize the deadline is passed.

Details, Details, Details

Before submitting your application for ANY scholarship no matter how large or small, ensure that the application (and materials) are error free and professional. It would be a shame to invest so much time only to have an embarrassing typo or forget to include a transcript or letter of recommendation. Triple-check before you click “Send” or drop it in the mailbox.

Damien is an author and website creator.