The Secret to Winning College Scholarships

When I was in high school, I was received over half a million dollars in scholarship offers. Because some of these scholarship offers were school-specific, I ended up actually receiving approximately $237,000 to go to college. Needless to say, these scholarships still covered the cost of tuition, housing, textbooks, food, and all other college-related expenses during my undergraduate career.

Many people attribute my scholarship success to my perfect SAT score. While having a stellar SAT score certainly helped, there was one simple secret that helped me secure a debt-free college experience: local scholarships are easier to win. The fewer applicants there are to a particular scholarship, the greater your chances are of winning that scholarship. And local scholarships undoubtedly have fewer applicants than national scholarships.

Don’t believe me? Well, of the 100 scholarships I applied to during my senior year of high school, I only won 1 national scholarship that was open to everyone. However, I won over 20 local scholarships, which were only open to students in my community, city, or state.

This means that applying for those big, national scholarships that you find in books are actually not your best bet. In order to find local scholarships, you’ll have to do some legwork.

(1) Visit Your Counselor’s Office

Your counselor will likely have a resource of local community scholarships. Companies often announce a scholarship they are offering by notifying high school counselors. But sometimes, that message doesn’t get relayed to students. So you’re better off paying a visit to the counselor.

(2) Research Online

You can find many local scholarships by doing quick searches online. For example, if you go to high school in Burbank, California, search for terms like “California Scholarships”, “Burbank Scholarships,” “Los Angeles Scholarships,” and “Southern California Scholarships”. You will quickly find scholarships you’ve never heard of before. And that’s good! The more obscure the scholarship, the fewer applicants it is likely to have.

(3) Ask Around.

When we live in the age of laptops, iPhones, and iPads, we sometimes forget one of the best ways to obtain information: word of mouth. Often times, high school students who are older than you know of scholarships that are specific to your community and school. You should also ask your parents, counselors, and community leaders if they know of any scholarships offered by local companies.

(4) Apply to National-Local Scholarships.

What is a “national-local” scholarship? Well, I just made up the term. But I define it as a “national scholarship that allocates a certain number of scholarships to each state or community.” For example, when I was in high school, I applied for an award called the AXA Achievement Scholarship. Although it was a national scholarship and in association with U.S. News and World Report (so everyone knew about it), I still believed I had a good shot at winning. Why? Because even though the scholarship was open to everyone in the nation, AXA gave a $10,000 scholarship to 1 student in every state. Essentially, this turns this “national” scholarship into a “national-local” scholarship! And because I was from Nevada, I figured not too many students would be applying for this scholarship, which meant I had a good shot at winning. And I was right!

(5) Find Local Scholarship Foundations.

Look for foundations in your community that are dedicated to disbursing scholarships. When I was attending school in Las Vegas, there was an organization called the “Clark County Public Education Foundation (CCPEF)”. The sole purpose of this organization was to give out scholarships to students. There are lots of individuals, organizations, and companies that want to give money to the youth. However, these donors don’t always know how to start their own scholarship program. So instead, they hire organizations like CCPEF to create, manage, and disburse scholarships on their behalf. CCPEF had a database of hundreds of scholarships that were only open to Las Vegas students. See if there is a similar organization in your community.

Once you have identified which local scholarships you will be applying for, it’s time to really focus on your applications! Put the deadlines for each scholarship in your planner so you don’t forget. And make sure you work weeks in advance to put together the best possible application (especially the essay).

By putting together stellar applications for many local scholarships, you are almost guaranteed to win!

Shaan Patel is the Director of SAT Programs at Veritas Prep and is the author of the best-selling book SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps.