High school seniors: It's not too early to be thinking about scholarships

High school seniors and scholarships

High school seniors, this may just be the biggest year of your life so far. When you're wrapped up in your last year of high school classes, football games, SATs, and more, college can seem so far away. Maybe so, but organizations that give out scholarships are already ramping up to start giving away money to next year's college freshmen.

Why it's not too early to start the scholarship hunt

Whether you went to a traditional brick-and-mortar school or an online high school, now is the perfect time to be narrowing your list of potential colleges and looking for scholarships that can ease the financial burden of paying for the one you ultimately choose.

While some scholarships have deadlines months down the road, others may be coming up soon and once they pass, they've passed. When you start applying for scholarships, you'll soon realize some applications require quite a bit of work. By putting off this important task, you could miss an opportunity to get money for college that doesn't have to be paid back. You should start now, and here's why:

1. Research takes time

There are several free online scholarship search tools. Steve Cohen, author of "Getting IN! The Zinch Guide to College Admissions and Financial Aid in the Digital Aid," says that you should never pay for a scholarship search service.

Sorting through this list takes time. These specialized scholarships may require more than just filling out an application. They may require you to be of certain ethnicity or cultural background, to be a member of certain organizations, to have completed volunteer work or community service, or to write a personal essay.

Knowing which scholarships you qualify for and making a comprehensive list of them takes time and research. By making that list early, you can use your time constructively by applying for scholarships rather than just looking for them.

2. Scholarships may require something extra of you

If you are required to be a member of an organization or club for a particularly relevant scholarship, now might be the time to join. If you're required to complete volunteer work for the scholarship, you'll need to get going too. The added benefit of both is that organizations and volunteer work can not only build character, but build your resume as well.

Dr. Debra Condren, founder of the Center For Strategic Career Development and author of "Ambition Is Not a Dirty Word" says that you can increase your odds of being awarded a scholarship or grant by demonstrating in your scholarship applications that you've devoted the time and energy necessary to discover what you were meant to do--and that you have a mapped out a viable plan for getting from where you are to where you want to be."

Once you've found some scholarships you qualify for, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Collecting all the necessary components for a scholarship application can take weeks and even months.

3. Some parts of the application take more time than others

Test scores and official transcripts: Some scholarships may require SAT or ACT test scores. Once you take the test, it takes a few weeks to get your scores. You may also be required to submit official transcripts, which you'll need to request from your high school. Your school will then either send them directly to where you're applying, or in the case of some independent scholarships, give transcripts to you in a sealed envelope so you can send them with the rest of your scholarship application.

Letters of recommendation: You need to carefully consider who you'll ask to write your letters of recommendation. It should be someone in a position of authority who can vouch for your good traits and tell why you'd be good for the scholarship. Once you've found someone willing to write the letter, he or she needs time to think about what they're going to write, and then time to get the letter written.

Personal essays: Personal essays require several drafts. Once you've taken time and care in preparing your personal essay, you'll want two people to look at it: someone who knows you well, and someone who knows grammar well.

4. Scholarships and college research go hand in hand

Cohen says "College applications and scholarships are a process best completed together. Ninety-seven percent of all scholarships are awarded by colleges themselves as part of the financial aid itself."

It's likely that you are already researching colleges you want to attend. Make sure to get admission applications in on time or early, and be sure to check the box denoting you'll be seeking financial aid. Fill out all the required information for financial aid, including a FAFSA. Even though the FAFSA helps determine federal student aid, most colleges use the information in the FAFSA to award school scholarships and grants as well. The FAFSA requires financial information, which can take a bit of time to compile.

Finding scholarships to pay for school is a year-round job. It can also be a full-time job, but if you spend 10 hours compiling an application for a $1,000 scholarship, you've just made $100 an hour. Not bad pay for a teenager.

More from Schools.com:

About the Author: