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Apply for College Scholarships Before Leaving High School

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Though students don't need scholarship funds until after high school graduation, it is essential to begin applying for scholarships well before graduation day approaches. To apply for college scholarships requires more than filling out a form and mailing it in. Research, organization, essay-writing, test-taking, and prompt application are all part of the process for successfully funding a college education with scholarships.

Research College Scholarships

Many scholarships have application deadlines in the fall of a student's senior year or earlier, and waiting until a few months before graduation to start applying for scholarships usually robs a student of the chance to receive sufficient funds to carry him through college.

Ideally, students should begin researching the hundreds of available scholarships early in their high school careers - or even in middle school. Even if some of the scholarships require a student to wait until the junior or senior year to actually apply, gathering the necessary information ahead of time and allowing an extended period to write and proofread essays can only be beneficial in the long run.

It can help to create a portfolio of scholarship applications organized by their due dates. In this way, it's less likely that an application deadline will be forgotten or overlooked until it's too late.

Apply for Essay-Based College Scholarships

Some scholarships are awarded based on students' original essays or on responses to open-ended questions about civic, educational, or community-oriented topics. The specific topics are not announced until the year the scholarship will be awarded, however. For example, if an essay-based scholarship has a deadline of November 1 and will be awarded on May 1 of the following spring, the essay topic will likely be announced in May of the current year.

If a student has gathered information about that scholarship early in his or her high school career, the announcement of the next essay topic can be anticipated. The student can then make full use of the time between announcement and application deadline, which is far preferable to trying to create a well-written essay in a few weeks' time.

Freshmen and Sophomores Can Apply for College Scholarships

Many scholarships are offered exclusively to students of a specific grade level. The senior year is, of course, the most common grade level specified by organizations offering scholarship funds. Other scholarships are made available to students in grades 9-12 or to ages 13-19, and some are offered exclusively to freshmen or sophomores. It's a very good idea for any college-bound student to begin researching available scholarships as early as possible in order to take advantage of these early opportunities.

Some scholarship applications require students to provide test scores from the SAT and/or ACT exams. These are normally taken during the senior year of high school, so scholarships aimed at ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders may not ask for the scores or providing them may be optional.

The PSAT exam is offered to students in the fall of their junior year. The score earned is used as a factor in the awarding of some scholarships, notably the National Merit Scholarship. In some cases, a student in seventh, eighth, or ninth grade may take the PSAT.

Can You Apply for Scholarships Before Choosing a College?

While many students utilize scholarships and grants provided by the college or university they attend, many more scholarships are given by private companies, organizations, and even communities. There is often no need for a student to make a final decision on which college to attend before applying for one of these private scholarships.

Scholarships awarded to a student are typically held in a fund by the awarding organization or institution. The funds will then be dispersed to the chosen college or university once the student has enrolled.

While it's truly never too late to apply for college scholarships, it's also never too early! A student should conceivably begin researching scholarships as soon as he or she decides to pursue a college education. As soon as he is eligible, the student can apply for each scholarship. Starting early maximizes the number of scholarships for which the student can apply and increases the potential funds she can receive.

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