Scholarship Do’s and Don’ts

scholarship do's and don'tsWhen it comes to paying for college, free money in the form of grants and scholarships is best since you do not have to pay it back. There are thousands of scholarships to choose from – but before you apply for the first one you see, follow these scholarship do’s and don’ts to help ensure you maximize your chances and don’t fall for a scam.


  1. DO explore all of your financial aid options and make sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form before May 1st each year. Based on the information provided on the FAFSA, you may be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant or a Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG). Grants, like scholarships, are free money.
  2. DO plan ahead. You don’t have to put off looking for scholarships until your senior year of high school. Begin researching scholarship opportunities in your junior year so that you’ll be ready when the time comes.
  3. DO beware of scams. Follow your gut and if something seems off, or if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. Scholarship providers never offer scholarships to just anyone – there will almost always be some sort of criteria or restrictions that apply, other than simply being a high school or college student. Be wary of offers that seem too general, random, or unprofessional. If there are spelling or grammar errors, it’s probably a scam. Review the scholarship website to see if it feels legit. Legitimate sponsors want to promote themselves and their work; they provide a detailed description about their business and the purpose of the scholarship on their websites. If the information is vague, with no links to the sponsoring individual or organization, it’s most likely a scam.
  4. DO search for scholarships through a free scholarship search engine. Discover Student Loans offers a Free Scholarship Search as a fast way to search 3 million scholarships worth more than $18 billion.
  5. DO inquire about local scholarships in addition to regional and national scholarships. These scholarships may not be as large as others, but there will be less competition because fewer students will be applying for the award.
  6. DO check your social media accounts and make sure you do not have any objectionable content or inappropriate pictures posted. Take time to clean up your online presence and only keep content that shows you off in a positive manner.
  7. DO carefully read the scholarship instructions. You don’t want your application to be turned down if you did not fill it out correctly or did not include any requested documents.
  8. DO make note of the scholarship deadline and be sure to apply on time. Traditionally, many scholarship opportunities open around Thanksgiving and close around the beginning of April, but scholarships can become available at any time.
  9. DO start preparing your scholarship submission well in advance, so you have time to proofread and edit your work before submitting it. You know what they say about first impressions!
  10. DO apply and keep applying. There is no limit to the amount of scholarships you can apply for or win. The more scholarships you apply for, the more you increase your odds of getting one.


  1. DON’T assume that scholarships are just available to the best and brightest students. There are many types of scholarships that don’t require you to be a star athlete or the head of your class; including, for example, scholarships for students involved in community service.
  2. DON’T procrastinate when it comes to asking for letters of recommendation from teachers and employers. You may not be the only student asking for a recommendation, so you want to be sure to give them enough advance notice.
  3. DON’T be tempted to send the exact same essay with every scholarship application. Each organization has different requirements and different selection criteria. It is crucial to personalize your essay to fit the sponsor’s purpose.
  4. DON’T underestimate the amount of time and effort it will take to complete a scholarship application and write an essay. It’s not something that you can do on a whim at the last minute.
  5. DON’T ignore small scholarships for a big scholarship. Every dollar counts, and the smaller scholarships usually have less competition than the larger ones.
  6. DON’T be afraid to approach local businesses and make inquiries at the companies where your family members work. It doesn’t hurt to ask if a business has a scholarship program for local students, and many corporations offer scholarships to employees as well as their dependents.
  7. DON’T give out any personal information, either online or if someone calls on the phone claiming to be a scholarship representative. They don’t need to know your social security number, credit card number, or bank account info.
  8. DON’T pay for scholarship opportunities. If it costs money to apply for a scholarship, it’s most likely a scam. No legitimate organization will charge any money upfront for a scholarship, or for performing a scholarship search. Also be wary of services that guarantee you a scholarship for a fee – look out for terms like “application fee,” “processing fee,” “administration fee,” “finalist letter,” or “scholarship guarantee” – these are all scholarship scam red flags.
  9. DON’T wait until the actual last day of the deadline to submit a scholarship application. If you have your application ready and get your essay done early, go ahead and submit it. (As long as you’ve taken the time to edit it for clarity, had someone else proofread it, and are confident that you don’t want to make any more changes.)
  10. DON’T forget to write a thank-you note if you are awarded a scholarship. A simple thank-you greatly impresses the benefactor and assures them that they awarded the scholarship to the right person.

We hope these scholarship do’s and don’ts have been helpful. Did you know there are also six common scholarship myths that can be debunked? Click here to learn more:

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