This article is published in the 2014 I’m First Guide to College

Getting Free Money for College

By Mary Williams

Now is the time for you to prepare for applying to competitive scholarship programs. Consider these steps:

1. Set goals. Develop short- and long-term goals for your college years and beyond. Scholarship programs want you to have goals to work toward. They lay a foundation for your future.

2. Make the grades. It is important to do well academically. Scholarship programs are looking for students who do well in school. Strong study and note taking skills are keys to academic achievement.

3. Be a leader. Engage in leadership and extracurricular activities. You do not have to limit yourself to being an officer in an established organization. You can also create opportunities for leadership, such as identifying a cause that interests you and developing and implementing a plan.

4.  Make a difference. Community service can benefit those you serve and can make you competitive for scholarships. Giving back is a way to enhance your leadership skills, make a difference in the lives of others and support your community.

5. Keep a log. Document your leadership and community service activities. Most scholarship applications require you to provide information from 9th through 12th grade that details the date, activity and number of hours of your engagement in your activity. Include a description that measures your activities. For instance, “I coordinated a project that provided clothing for over 200 homeless people” is much more convincing than “I participated in a clothing drive effort.”

6. Build relationships. A teacher or other educator is often required to support your scholarship application. It is important to start developing relationships early with individuals who know your academic and/or personal achievements.

7. Use your resources. Family members, teachers and community organizations are all a part of your resources. Ask for their assistance in reviewing your work, reading essays for scholarships and providing tips for success.

8. Make a commitment to succeed. Most scholarship applications have some question(s) that determine your ability to meet challenges. Make the choice to never give up and use those experiences when you are successful to tell your story.

Mary Williams is Director of Communications & Administration for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.

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