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5 Tips On Applying For External Scholarships 

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Virginia Tech chapter.

We all could use a little extra help paying for school. College often feels like it’s costing more and more every semester, and while VT does offer a lot of opportunities through our scholarship hub, there are infinitely more scholarship opportunities available from thousands of organizations around the country, and even around the world. You probably qualify for more of them than you might first think. As someone who has been able to snag a few extra doubloons for my education, I would like to bestow upon you my top tips for making your external scholarship search a bit more fruitful.  

Start Small

You’ve surely seen the 10k, 20k, or even more ”chance to win” posts advertised to the underfunded college student. These ads are the siren songs that call to you late at night over your doomscrolling and microwave noodles, when you wonder if this degree is really worth it. 

They’re tempting, but in most cases they’re too good to be true. They often have huge entry pools with very light requirements, especially when it comes to those that are a random drawing. Even if you entered all of these big ticket draws the odds are pretty stacked against you. I’m not discouraging you from applying, definitely do! Though don’t pass up those smaller chunks of change, 500, 250, or even 50 dollar scholarships get a lot less attention from the masses due to the idea that it isn’t even worth the time. However, even fifty bucks for a one hour write-up is far more than you’d make working in a coffeeshop downtown in the same time, so don’t let these opportunities pass you by.

Think Local, not just “your” local

One of the scholarships I won was an essay contest from a small law firm based in Chicago, aimed towards Chicago students, but open to the whole country, Search for your field of interest or future profession, add “scholarship” + the application cycle’s year, and start sleutheing through the far out pages of google. Has anyone even seen page nine of Google results? Cast a wide net and check everything out. Make sure to never pay for an application, however, most of these small scale prizes are legit, buissnesses love to support students and get their names out there.

Dig into the niche

There’s money on the table for things you wouldn’t expect. Are you left handed? Especially tall? of Amish descent? There’s a scholarship for that, and a lot more. Dig into what makes you unique, the meaningful, the rare, the weird and the silly can put money in your hand. No trait is too small or too out there, so don’t be afraid to type up a few odd phrases into your search engine of choice. Orgnizations also want to support people who aren’t in the most advantageous positions to get an education, if you have a unique upbringing or background, or come from an underrepresented group in the mainstream college populus, there may be more specific scholarships there as well. As someone who is visually impaired, has a veteran father, and is part of the LGBT community I have found some of these chances really helpful.

Perfect Your Craft

After many hours scouring the web for scholarships and grants, you begin to notice some patterns, and how they play out. The most common prompt scholarships ask for, unsurprisingly, is some variation of, “what career path do you want to follow and why?” This is to the tune of several hundred word differences, and a bit of paraphrasing. Make one document with this essay, that you really pour your heart and talent into. Show the judges who you are, what you’re about, and why their donation is well spent on your future success. Make this document flexible, add pieces and rewrite paragraphs, keep a running stock of variations of your “golden child” essay. This way you’ll have a better framework to help you mold each of you “career” applications into something that not only meets the criteria, but expresses your best self, ideas, and feelings to the judges. If you were on the other end of the process, with potentially hundreds of papers to read and strict rules about how to handle their contribution, you would be looking for a paper that checks all those boxes. Be that paper. 

Pseudo Freelancing

While there are the tried and true scholarship prompts around every corner, sometimes they’re actually hyper-speciifc. Whether it’s a paper on how electricity impacted one’s favorite historical figure, or why a company’s new air conditioner is the best on the market, organizations are often looking for something, whether subtly or directly, that will put them in the limelight, and depending on who is providing this scholarship, that can lead to writing about topics you never expected, or were even familiar with. These scholarships also often get less entries, because very few people have an essay about quality gravel composition lying around in their files. Especially since, if you’re anything like me, many of your files are named in such classy ways as “homework7fresh”

Now, go forth and win money, the only time you have a zero percent chance of winning is if you never enter, a lot of it is a numbers game, but knowing a few tricks to break through the crowd never hurt. I wish you all the best in your pursuit of affording higher education. 

Marina Yingling

Virginia Tech '25

Current sophomore creative writing and sociology major at VT