The cost of college weighs on every student’s mind. But there’s money out there to help you defray the price of tuition, books, housing and other expenses if you put the time into applying for scholarships for which you’re eligible.

Smart students apply for as many as they can find. But a lot of that work is going to waste because they’re not doing the things that scholarship boards are looking for when they want to award money to deserving students. This guide will help you make sure every scholarship application stands out from the crowd.

Collecting Possible Scholarships

Your school of choice is likely the best place to start looking for scholarships. The university or college you attend likely has awards available for qualifying students, and they probably have resources for pointing you toward outside scholarships and grants, too.

Know the requirements (full-time enrollment, GPA, ethnicity, gender, religion, first in the family to attend college, intended major). Private scholarships can be as selective as they like to be, so check to be sure you’re not applying for a scholarship you don’t qualify for.

Make sure to mark the deadlines for the awards you’re applying for and schedule your time accordingly. Set goals to complete a couple applications a week, and make sure you send them out well ahead of the deadline. Don’t miss out on money for school just because you were late getting to the mailbox!

Know What You Have to Offer

Any kind of application worth filling out—whether it’s for an apartment, job or a scholarship—is really a way for you to sell yourself to the person reading it. You’ll have the chance to sell yourself in every application, usually in a personal statement or essay portion of the application. But just important is that you identify all the things that make you a good candidate.

Take some time and write down all your skills and attributes. More than just your GPA or the classes you’ve taken, you need to make the scholarship board see you as a whole, well-rounded student with deep interests, the skills you need to be successful in academics and a passion to drive you to succeed in and out of school.

If you’ve already taken a couple of courses from online colleges like Strayer (Learn more about our online course offerings here.), talk about what you’ve learned and how you’re excited to apply that knowledge in your academic and professional career. No matter what hobbies, accomplishments, club memberships and projects you note on your application, be honest to a fault. Dishonesty on scholarship applications won’t be tolerated, and if you’re exposed, it could jeopardize your entire academic career.

Understand the Scholarship Sponsor

Understanding the organization offering the scholarship, their vision, mission, etc. will help you be more authentic in your answers to questions, essays and interviews. What is the mission of the organization? What is their stated purpose of the scholarship? What kind of students are they looking to support according to the requirements and the materials they’re asking for in the application.

The Essay / Personal Statement

This is the most important part of any scholarship application; it’s where you really get to go beyond just listing your accomplishments and really tell the board why you deserve their support. You’ll want to follow whatever format they give you, but the most important part of any essay you write is that it be readable and compelling:

  • Be efficient with your language; rambling makes you seem unintelligent.
  • Proofread in triplicate. More than one application has been thrown out because of typos.
  • Itemize your future goals, why you’ve chosen them, and with details about how you plan to achieve them.

Make it positive, concrete, inspiring. You don’t have to write Shakespeare; you just have to show them some passion. Scholarship committees want to help the go-getters; the people who make them believe they’ll succeed. Be that person, and make sure it shows through in your essay.

If you take your time and check (and double-check) each application before you send it out, you’re much more likely to see success in getting scholarships to help you pay for school. With thousands of dollars at stake, spending a lot of time on these applications is definitely worth the effort. Remember, apply to as many as you can find that you qualify for and do them right; you won’t get a second shot at these awards.

Good luck scholarship hunting!