I’m a Senior. Is It Too Late to Get Scholarships?

Not Too LateHigh School Seniors and College Scholarships

I’ve been substitute teaching at a local Vermont high school for the last few weeks and it’s been an awesome experience. Students like to ask what I do when I’m not at their school. I tell them that I write books and teach students how to find and win scholarships. This always leads to more questions, especially from college-bound seniors. Last week, a student said, “I feel like I’ve missed all of my opportunities. Is it too late to get any scholarships if I start now?”

The bad news is it’s Mud Month here in Vermont (that season between winter and spring), so you’ve missed most of the scholarships available to high school seniors. By my estimates, 40% of the scholarships I find are specifically for high school students, especially the local ones. I tell seniors that this is the most important year to apply for scholarships because it’s the only time they can “triple dip” in the scholarship pool. What I mean by that is, it’s the only time they’re eligible for scholarships for high school seniors, entering freshman, and undergraduates. Next year, that pool shrinks to scholarships only for undergraduate students. (Heads-up, high school juniors!)

The good news is that it’s not too late, but you’ll need to spend time over the summer pulling together documents. You’ll need certain documents in order to apply for scholarships. If you think high school is demanding of your time and energy, college is even more intense. Moving away from home for the first time, getting oriented as a freshman, attending classes, completing challenging homework, perhaps working part time, and, of course, meeting new people and having a social life means you’ll be super busy! This leaves little time left to devote to applying for scholarships. This is why you’ll want to get your Scholarship Portfolio assembled and ready to go. It will save you a ton of time to apply.

What’s a Scholarship Portfolio?

When you find a scholarship, you’ll see that the funding organization has a list of documents you’ve got to send them just to be considered. If you fail to send even one, you’re immediately disqualified. These documents can include:

  • The Application (online or paper)
  • Official Transcripts (sent from your high school or college) or an Unofficial Transcript (a copy you have and can send)
  • Resume
  • Personal Statement and/or Essay
  • Letters of Recommendation (1-3 letters may be required)
  • Test Scores
  • Tax Returns
  • Proof of Enrollment
  • FAFSA SAR
  • Age Verification
  • Photo (headshot or a flattering selfie)

I suggested to this high school senior, that he use the summer months to request these documents and write his resume, personal statement, essays, and a sample scholarship application. Keep in mind that it may take a month or two just to get your Letters of Recommendation back. If you need a sample scholarship application, you can find links in our Featured Scholarships. Print one and use it as a sample to work off of to cut down on mistakes and the time it takes to complete new apps. Keep several printed copies of ALL documents in your files for quick assembly so you can easily meet the deadline. Be sure to also scan and create electronic files (e.g., PDF, Word, JPG) of these documents and put them in a scholarship folder on your desktop for online-only applications. This allows you to find and upload the files or print out new copies to mail.

If you want details about the Scholarship Portfolio documents, you can read more about it here. With your portfolio assembled, you can use the “cookie-cutter approach” and save a ton of time on the scholarship application process.

About those Financial Aid Award Letters

High school seniors (and their parents) may find that the financial aid awards they received for their freshman year, evaporate when they’re a sophomore. Unfortunately, I hear this is quite common. Colleges enroll you as a freshman with a nice award package and count on the fact that once you’ve completed your first year, you’ll stay at the college no matter what the price is next year. This is why applying for scholarships throughout your college career is so important—especially if you don’t want to graduate deeply in debt with monthly student loan payments for the next 15-20 years! Here’s a great link for more information about those award letters.

So, no, it’s never too late if you start today. But that’s up to you. If you assemble your Scholarship Portfolio over the summer, you can hit the ground running at the start of the scholarship season (roughly October through March). You’ll find it’s easy to apply immediately for all the scholarships you’re eligible for and still have a social life. Missed deadlines won’t be an issue anymore.

Do you have a scholarship question? Send me an email. I really love to hear from students and parents, especially during Mud Month.

There's no point in washing my car during Vermont's Mud Month. This is just from going up the driveway and happens every day.

There’s no point in washing my car during Vermont’s Mud Month. This is just from going up the driveway and happens every day.

A Scholarship Portfolio: What’s In It & Why You Need One

Scholarship PortfolioThe Scholarship Portfolio: What’s In It & Why You Need One

When scholarship hunting, you’ll discover that scholarships require certain documents. In fact, the caring truth is if you’re missing even one document, your application will be rejected. Spending a few hours over the summer pulling together your scholarship documents will pay off big time. Why? Because you’ll be able to easily pull all the documents you need from your files and off your computer. This let’s you apply for the scholarship right away and makes all-nighters and missed deadlines a thing of the past.

When we feature a scholarship on our blog or in our ebooks, we list the documents the Scholarship Committee requires when you to apply. Some documents are required if you win and before awarding the money. Knowing what documents you’ll need to assemble allows you to start collecting, scanning, copying, writing, and editing over the summer when things are less hectic. These essential documents are what I call a “Scholarship Portfolio” which I believe has two very creative uses. First, the collection of documents is definitely used to apply for scholarships but it can also be used to promote your scholarship business. (I’ll write more about that next week or you can read it in “How to Find & Win Scholarships“.)

The majority of scholarship deadlines land between October and March—right in the middle of the school year when academics, athletics, and activities are the busiest. The good news is that you can use your Summer vacation months to slowly pull together your Scholarship Portfolio documents. This let’s you hit the ground running in the Fall when the deadlines begin!

  1. Official TranscriptsContact your school to request your Official Transcripts be sent to the mailing address of the scholarship organization. We suggest you allow 2-4 weeks and then follow up with them a week or two before the deadline to make sure they’ve received your transcripts. Another way to handle this is to request your college or high school send you transcripts in individually sealed envelopes so you can mail them yourself. Once opened, though, it’s no longer an “official” transcript. However, we suggest you open one to scan into a PDF document. Not all scholarships require an official transcript; some just ask for a copy or file.
  2. Resume—Type your resume in Word or another word processing program, and export it as a Word file or PDF. You’ll have it to send electronically, to print out and mail a hard copy, and to cut and paste into scholarship applications. Having it in Word makes it easy to keep your resume up to date. Make sure it’s typo-free, contains all your contact information, jobs you’ve held, and any community service or volunteer work.
  3. Letters of Recommendation—We suggest getting 3 to 6 recommendation letters because some scholarship committees require up to 3. It’s nice to have a choice to select letters that closely match what the scholarship committee is looking for. (Be sure to check out previous winners.) Once you’ve received the letters, scan them, copy them, and be sure to send handwritten thank you notes to all your recommenders. (See our post on getting great letters.)
  4. Test Scores—If a committee accepts unofficial test scores, you’ll want to save and print out your test-score results. Official test scores have to be sent from the testing organization. For more information and fees on SATs, check here or see if you’re eligible for fee waivers. For ACT scores check here.
  5. Essay or Personal Statement—Use Word or another program to type your essay. Make sure you run it through spellcheck and ask someone you trust to proofread it for you. Read it out loud so you can catch mistakes and listen to the tone. Keep every essay you write so that you can customize it for future scholarship applications. This will build a collection of essays that you can draw from over the years. (We’ll be writing more about Essays so stay posted.)
  6. Tax Returns—Most “need-based scholarships” award money based on economic factors and will require Federal taxes. Make copies of your Federal tax returns (or your parents’) and scan them. You’ll need to do this every year. If you send them electronically, make sure you redact (or black out) the social security numbers on the tax forms.
  7. Proof of Enrollment—If you are a high school student, this will be a copy of your Acceptance Letter. If you’re already in college, ask the Registrar for a letter or other proof of enrollment. Be sure to request this every semester so you have it handy.
  8. Proof of ResidencyThis can be as simple as a copy of your Driver’s License.
  9. FAFSA/SARAll students who wish to be considered for financial aid must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid offices at colleges and universities use the FAFSA to determine if you are eligible for grants, loans, and work-study programs. You must file a new FAFSA every year in order to be considered for financial aid. These forms are available in January. Once you’ve completed your FAFSA, you’ll receive an SAR report. If you file your FAFSA electronically, you will be notified by email. This permits you to send the FAFSA/SAR on to the scholarship committee. If you file with a paper form, you can scan and export these as PDF files or copy and mail them.
  10. Age Verification—Again, you can use your Driver’s License to verify your age.
  11. Photo—No, not a selfie. Ask a friend or family member to take a photo of you (preferably a “headshot” of your face and shoulders). For best results, stand in front of a neutral background, like a wall. Make sure you look your best and smile! If you need to crop the photo down to a headshot, use an image editor and export the file as a .JPG. Some scholarship committees request a photo that they can use on their website to announce winners or use in promotional materials. They may also send you a special photo-release form or ask you to write an email granting them permission to use your photo. Be sure to follow their directions. Check out Can’t Afford a Photographer? How to Get a Great Headshot Anyway from The Daily Muse. Not sure if your photo is a good one? I like PhotoFeeler because it’s a free and anonymous way to get crowd feedback (plus it’s fun to rate photos!).
  12. Application—While every scholarship has it’s own application, you can create a generic application document in Word. Start by copying common questions you come across on applications. (This will help you identify themes for essays and personal statements too!) Type in your answers or copy them from an actual application. While this might seem like a lot of work in the beginning, it will save you substantial time when you start submitting dozens of scholarship applications. Once you’ve created this document, you can easily cut and paste the answers into new applications (and you’ll know they don’t have typos).

Need some extra help creating a Scholarship Portfolio that rocks? Check out our Scholarship Boot Camp. It’s a great way to connect with other students who want to avoid student loans and graduate debt free. You’ll also have the benefit of a professional writers and editors to help you create outstanding essays, personal statements, and more. When you win your first average scholarship, you’ve not only paid for the camp, but you’ll have enough money left over to pay for a semester of books! Sweet, right?

How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation

Letter of RecommendationDid you know that most scholarship applications require two or more recommendation letters?

Recommendation letters—from people who know you and your work well—give the scholarship committee a glimpse into your strengths, your qualities, your personality, and your accomplishments. With these letters in hand, the committee will decide which among the many candidates will receive their scholarship. Letters of recommendation are a great way of getting the committee’s attention, telling them who you are, and why they should take you seriously.

Before you ask just anyone for a recommendation letter, consider who might be the most appropriate people to share their knowledge and opinions of you with the scholarship committee. To state the obvious, they should not be family members. They should, however, be people you respect and have a good rapport with, people who know you and your abilities well enough to write objectively about your qualifications to receive the scholarship. It’s also important to choose people who can write a well-thought-out recommendation highlighting your best personal and academic qualities. We also suggest that your recommenders have documented expertise in the field the scholarship is in.

Once you’ve found your best recommenders, make sure they have everything they need to give you the clearest, most focused recommendation letters they can. Don’t be tempted to write the letter yourself and have your recommenders sign it. Scholarship committees want to hear from the people who know you and your scholastic achievements, and often require that the letters go directly to them without your reading them. You should give your recommenders:

  • Information about the scholarship purpose, requirements, and sponsor
  • A copy of all scholarship application materials including your essay and other recommendation letters if you have them
  • The name and address the letter should be sent to
  • The suggested letter format (see below)
  • What information the letter should contain (see below)
  • A good amount of time to write the letter, at least a month
  • A clear deadline and friendly reminder if needed
  • Information about the rules for submitting the letter to the scholarship committee
  • An addressed, stamped envelope if needed
  • Anything else that will make the process easier for your recommender (i.e., a list of important facts including your experience, work descriptions, projects completed, accomplishments or achievements, length of time you’ve know each other or worked for the organization, etc.)

The letter itself should meet a few formatting standards and contain specific information that most scholarship committees want to know. Here are a few suggestions that we’ve come across that may help your letter stand out. The letter should:

  • Be one or two single-spaced pages, typed on letterhead, and dated
  • Be directed to the specific scholarship committee it’s going to, not “to whom it may concern.” Use the name of the committee chairperson if you have it.
  • Note how long and in what capacity your recommender knows you
  • Mention the specific scholarship in the body of the letter
  • Address specific criteria for this scholarship
  • Include specific anecdotes or incidents that show the recommender knows you well
  • Put you in the larger context of your recommender’s experience with students or others
  • Provide current examples of your activities in the scholarship field
  • Support your scholarship essay and application materials
  • Describe why you are a good match for this scholarship
  • Avoid summarizing other application materials
  • Use your recommender’s full title on signature line

Recommendation letters are an integral part of your scholarship application, and well-written, thoughtful recommendation letters are a must. Be sure to individually and formally thank your recommenders for taking the considerable time and effort required to help you shine in front of the committee and increase your chances of landing that coveted scholarship.

The above recommendations are put forward as the best practices to follow. However, when you’re applying for dozens of scholarships, it would be a burden to request customized individual letters for every scholarship. Another alternative is to have your recommendation letters be specific to you, yet generic enough to be reused. This means asking your recommenders to write a letter without the name and address of the scholarship committee and the name of the scholarship. In this case, addressing the letter “To Whom It May Concern” is perfectly acceptable. We also suggest that you have 6 to 12 people write letters of recommendation. This permits you to select the top 2 or 3 that are the best match for a particular scholarship.

We think summer is the best time to ask for letters of recommendation. Why? Because people are relaxed, have more free time and vacations, and are generally less busy at work. Now is the perfect time to write down a list of people you can ask and pull together the information they’ll need to write an awesome letter on your behalf. This way, you’ll be ready to make your requests in June.

If you need help getting great recommendation letters (or other documents for your Scholarship Portfolio), check out our Scholarship Summer Camp starting on June 24th.

Do you have letters of recommendation? If you do, we’d love to hear about your experience and any advice you can share on how you got great letters!