Scholarships can be an excellent way to help you pay for college. They provide money for school that you don’t have to pay back. Fortunately, scholarships are available from a wide range of sources; you just need to know where to look and be able to identify a good match. 

Here are some scholarship tips and tricks to help you navigate the process of finding and applying for free money towards your college education:

Think about which type of scholarships may be right for you. There are many, many scholarships available today; there are also many, many applicants. Help boost your chances by applying for those most relevant to your qualifications, talents, interests and background. Before you start looking for scholarships, spend some time thinking about what makes you you: What are you passionate about? What career path do you plan to pursue? What extracurricular activities do you participate in? Have you overcome any hardships in your life? What personal details — e.g., your heritage, race, gender identity or unique personal traits — might help you qualify for certain scholarships? 

Start searching. Keep searching. Now that you have an idea of the types of scholarships you’re looking for, get serious about tracking down scholarship opportunities. The internet can be a great source. A variety of websites aggregate scholarship opportunities so you can easily research for those that fit. The U.S. Department of Labor has a scholarship finder; you can find many others by simply searching the term “scholarship search.” Visit these sites often, because they typically update often. (Beware of scholarship scams. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips for avoiding scholarship and financial aid scams.) 

Reach out to your school guidance counselor or advisor, too, to see what scholarships they may be aware of. And don’t forget about the people in your personal network. Many companies and local organizations offer scholarships that may not show up on any databases. Ask everyone you know!

Get organized. Taking a methodical approach to your scholarship efforts can help you keep things straight and stay on schedule. Here are some suggestions:

  • Set aside dedicated time each week. Block off Wednesday evenings or put in an hour a day. Or maybe you search for new opportunities every Tuesday night and write applications and essays every Saturday morning. Whatever works best for your schedule is fine. Just make sure you stick with the schedule and put in the effort.
  • Create a SCHOLARSHIPS folder for all of your scholarship-related materials and information. Many applications require supporting documentation — e.g., your most recent school transcripts, resume, letters of recommendation or completed FAFSA. By keeping all of these documents in one place, you won’t have to scramble to find them every time you prepare an application.
  • Build a spreadsheet including application deadlines. You can use this to track the important information for each application, such as the submission deadline, the award amount, the requirements and when you might expect to hear whether you’ve won. Remember: When it comes to scholarships, submitting your application earlier is better, so keep an eye on these dates and make sure you’re not waiting until the last minute to hit “send.”

Take your time filling out each application. Once you’ve found a scholarship opportunity that fits you, relax and take your time filling it out. For the best possible chance at getting the scholarship, be sure you’re following the application’s instructions carefully. Don’t rush through answering any questions; make sure you’re giving thoughtful, thorough responses. Once you’ve completed the application, take the time to double-check your spelling and grammar. 

Don’t skip opportunities that require an essay or offer a smaller dollar amount. Sure, writing an essay requires additional effort, but won’t it be worth it if you land that scholarship? Build essay-writing into your weekly schedule. If you limit yourself to opportunities that don’t require an essay, you limit the number of scholarships you could get. Same goes for smaller scholarships: Why pass them up? If you’re able to receive a handful of those smaller scholarships, you might end up with a fistful of cash.

Review and, if needed, revise your social media profiles. Depending on the evaluation process of a particular scholarship, your social media profiles may be viewed by scholarship committee members. Make sure they will be impressed by your integrity and professionalism.

Apply for all you can. The best way to improve your chances of obtaining a scholarship is to cast a wide net. If you meet a scholarship’s criteria, nothing should stop you from applying. Remember: Someone is going to get that scholarship money. It could very well be you!