Never pay for scholarship information or release personal information
These are scams. “Don’t ever give out your social security number. Do not pay somebody to apply for a scholarship. Be careful and savvy about your privacy, because there are crooked people out there who just want your information,” warns Stezala.
Find scholarships that actually match who you are – and don’t apply to those that don’t
Only apply if you truly match the criteria otherwise it’s a waste of both your and the scholarship provider’s time. “If you don’t match the criteria, they won’t even consider your application because they have so many others that do,” says Stezala.
Personalize your search
“A Google search will yield a million results, so going personal can reveal those golden nuggets,” says Stezala who recommends looking at organizations you might be connected to who offer scholarships. “This could be a church, a local or fraternal organization, a women’s group, or women’s business association,” she says.
Stezala goes on to say that people often forget that some employers have scholarships for employees, or for children and grandchildren of employees. “For instance, my father-in-law’s company has scholarships for my children, his grandchildren,” she explains.
Stezala also recommends exploring industry-specific scholarships. “The Mat-Su Health Foundation in Wasilla, Alaska, is focused on building the health care workforce in Alaska, where it’s desperately needed, and they’re giving away over $1 million in scholarships,” says Stezala.
Sharpen your written word
Scholarships awards are based on the written narrative you submit, so it’s worth it to ask a friend or colleague to proofread your work. “It’s obviously not ethical to have them write it, but if it’s a competitive academic scholarship, you’ll have to write at a college level. I can say that, as a judge, all we have to go on is the written material you’ve submitted. The atrophy of writing skills is a common problem. When I read some scholarship applications, I can tell when they just didn’t give it the care it deserved,” says Stezala.
Stezala says this also applies to recommendation letters. “You don’t have to submit the letter if it wasn’t written well. If it’s not a solid letter, even if you didn’t write it, it could do you a disservice,” she says.
Join the local chapter of your chosen profession’s association
These associations oftentimes have scholarship money for members or the children of members. “While you should never pay for scholarships, it’s a good idea to pay to join a professional association for networking purposes, for learning about the industry, for opportunities beyond scholarships, for mentoring … and you could find out about scholarships that are available as well,” says Stezala.
Participate in community service
“Even though you’re a busy working adult, it will help you if you have some community service that you can list on your scholarship application,” says Stezala. “These are people giving away free money. They want to see what you’ve done to invest in your community or help other people. Some scholarship providers look at this more than others, so I’m not suggesting you need to go crazy with volunteer work, but it may give you an edge.”
Use multiple sources
Subscribe (for free) to at least two online scholarship directories. These might include Scholarships.com or FastWeb.com. “Those are two of the longest-standing ones,” says Stezala. She recommends using two different directories because each uses different search algorithms, which means you might get different information and results.
“I’m also a huge fan of the good old-fashioned library,” says Stezala. Even if you’re not a young adult, librarians can help you find the information you need.
Lastly, Stezala recommends trying community foundations. “These are often the place locally where scholarships are shared, both their own and those from other organizations. So your local community foundation is a unique place to look that not a lot of people think about.”
Don’t wait. Start seeking and applying for scholarships early
Even if you’re looking at online schools with varying calendars, you should still follow the traditional academic calendar for applying for scholarships because providers still follow this calendar. “Generally speaking, deadlines are in the spring before fall enrollment. A big mistake – made particularly by nontraditional students who are not used to a traditional academic calendar – is to not start looking until a month or two before you need the money,” says Stezala.
Be truthful and accurate
“If you’re not truthful, that’s scholarship fraud, and it’s a criminal act,” warns Stezala. Be truthful and honest, and really invest in getting your core information consistent and accurate. “If you’re a current college student, is your GPA a 3.4 or a 3.6? You should know that. Because if we ask for a transcript and you put something else in the application, now we’re looking at something that doesn’t match, and even it was unintentional, it really reflects poorly on the applicant.”
To help ensure your information is always correct, Stezala recommends using Scholar Snapp, a free tool from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, that gives the ability to have portable information. About 80 percent of the info asked for on scholarship applications is the same – name, address, GPA, ACT score. This app enables you to enter the information once, and for any scholarship using Scholar Snapp, the application is automatically populated with that information. “It’s a big a time saver, and that way you make sure your information is accurate and consistent,” says Stezala.
Answer the question being asked
“If you do this, you’ll rise above the rest,” says Stezala. “You’d be amazed how many people don’t answer the question we’ve asked.” Because it’s a competition, judges have a rubric. If a question isn’t answered, you won’t get any points for that question. “It sounds so basic, but it’s a big tip to help you win.”