Making College Affordable: 5 Tips for Securing Scholarships


College planning can be both exciting and stressful. While students and parents celebrate this new stage and its milestones, for many, one question looms large: “Can we get help paying for this?” jasmine-coro-3NgnoYlNKdk-unsplashThe answer to this question is, most often, yes. There are many sources of funding available other than student loans. The five tips below can help simplify your search by offering strategies for planning, prioritizing, and managing your time during the process.

1. Get Organized (and stay that way)

Before beginning to actively search for opportunities, it is important to get organized. Devise a plan for keeping up with essential information regarding the application process. Each scholarship will have a different due date and submission requirements. Keeping this information in one place will help ensure that your student doesn’t miss out on the perfect opportunity.

The method of organization can be as individual as your student. A simple folder, neatly organized binder, or even a spreadsheet to record essential information can work well. Use the approach that works for your student. In addition to the submission deadline and requirements, other helpful details that should be documented include the award amount, the date by which a decision will be reached, and the date the application materials were sent. Trust me - after submitting dozens of applications, the details can begin to blur. Having a consistent and sustained organizational plan is essential to staying on track.

For templates to help you get started, check this one out

2. Get Started Early

Though there is nothing wrong with beginning the preliminary scholarship search during your student’s junior year (or even earlier), most scholarships for incoming freshmen are reserved for high school seniors. If your student has not begun the search by the start of senior year, don’t despair! There are ample opportunities throughout the academic year with many deadlines in October and December. To avoid letting opportunities slip by, start working on those scholarship applications as early as possible!

3. Make a SMART Goal

In Executive Function coaching, we often help students understand the science behind goal setting by illustrating how to turn an undefined goal into a SMART goal. SMART goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time bound. Creating this type of goal helps ensure that you are setting yourself up for success. For instance, instead of saying “I am going to apply for scholarships this week,” a student may say, “I am going to locate and apply for five opportunities this week.” The second statement offers a reasonable, specific, time-bound goal that is both achievable and measurable. With SMART goals, you can see when you are not making progress toward your goal so you can adjust your approach accordingly.

4. Investigate Multiple Funding Sources

Though it may be tempting to rely only on the wealth of internet resources for scholarships, students should keep many other valuable funding sources in mind. While websites such as,, and can prove very useful, students should supplement their search with other less obvious resources.

Check out the list below for other valuable resources:

  • The #1 bestselling guide The Ultimate Scholarship Book is released each year. It offers students all they need to know to apply for billions of award dollars. Just make sure that your student has the current year’s version as the deadlines will likely have changed and the active scholarships are updated in each edition.
  • Local organizations in your area may provide many scholarships to eligible students. Make a list of these organizations and contact them. They will often provide scholarship information on their websites.
  • Make sure that your student informs the school counselor that they are interested in pursuing scholarship opportunities. This step is often overlooked because it is easy to assume that the counselor would already know this. However, many students do not apply for scholarships for various reasons. Letting the counselor know early can give your student an advantage.
  • Don’t forget the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)! Apply early to have a greater chance at maximum aid and grant funding. Once your student knows how much aid is being awarded, they will be better able to focus their scholarship search efforts.
  • Once your student has decided on the perfect university and has received acceptance, check the university’s website and search for “scholarships”. In addition to departmental scholarships and institutional scholarships, which are often awarded automatically, universities may also offer endowed scholarships—scholarships funded by donations directly to the university. Many of these scholarships have a separate application process.

5. Don't Give Up 

Remember that your student will likely not get many of the scholarships that they apply for, and that is okay! Though they may become frustrated, it can be helpful to remind them that we never win races we don’t begin. The scholarship search process can be long and at times stressful, but just a few small wins can add up to big college savings. And the bonus: by exercising those Executive Function muscles needed to keep an organized and effective scholarship search, your student is building skills for college success during the entire process. Talk about a win-win!


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Photo by Jasmine Coro on Unsplash

About the Author

Misty Chisum, EdD

Misty Chisum, EdD, is an English Instructor and Executive Function Coach for Beyond BookSmart. In addition to two decades in higher education, she is certified to teach 5-12 ELA. She has done extensive work in online instruction and student engagement and focuses her research efforts on student-instructor engagement in distance education. She earned a BS in Education from Drury University, an MA in English from Southeast Missouri State University, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Missouri.

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