Paying For College - Head Matters

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9. Scholarship Search

Create a scholarship portfolio

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Complete your applications
Make sure you’ve completed the entire application and that it’s perfect—this is no place for spelling or grammatical errors. Follow all of the instructions very closely. You'd hate to be disqualified for not following instructions, but it can happen.

Write your essay
Generally the essay is a lot of hard work, but it is by far one of the most important parts of your scholarship application. It’s your opportunity to stand out from the other applicants. So, put a lot of time and thought into this process. Here are some tips that should help: 

  • Make sure you answer any specific questions asked.
  • Hook the reader within the first few sentences.
  • Use vivid, descriptive language.
  • Use action words.
  • Use a thesaurus—can you find another word for “great?”
  • Reiterate the language used in the question; for example, “career goals” or “greatest risk ever taken.”
  • Use descriptive stories and examples to strengthen your point.
  • Be specific. For example, say “pediatrician” rather than “doctor.”
  • Don’t state the obvious. If it’s too generic, take it out. For example, “I want to be a doctor to help people,” is too generic.
  • Proofread more than once. Check for spelling and grammar errors. Try reading your essay out loud, read it backward to catch spelling errors and have someone else read it, too. Don’t rely on spell check.


Make copies of your essay or keep an electronic copy and file it in your scholarship portfolio. Often, a single essay will work for many applications. You may have to alter it slightly, but creating one or two strong, basic scholarship essays will save you time.  Be careful, however, that the essay you used last fits the current scholarship!  Revise it if it doesn’t!

Get a great recommendation
Give each of your references two to four weeks to write your recommendation, and ask for their letters at least one week before your application deadline. Make it easy for your references to get the letter back to the right place:

  • If your letter needs to be attached to your application, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
  • If your letter needs to be mailed directly to the scholarship committee, include a stamped envelope addressed to the committee with the date the letter is due.


Provide a personal profile

Send each of your references a personal profile letter to remind them of who you are and your relationship. You may also want to include a blank copy of your application, so they know what you’re applying for. This will provide your references with the information they need to write a convincing, personal and complete letter.

Even if it’s not required, consider including a letter of recommendation with your application. A great endorsement may improve your chances.  Teachers, parents’ friends, employers, coaches, clergy members, and other adults who speak to your character and chances for future success are good people to ask to serve as references.

It’s usually best to make an outline before you begin writing—it can help organize your thoughts, keep you on track and help the writing go faster.

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Paying For College

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