Many students think that they should start looking at college scholarships once they actually start applying to college—so, sometime early on in their senior year. Although it’s true that many big-name scholarships require applicants to be high school seniors, there are some great awards out there for younger students as well.
So why not get a head start in applying for scholarship awards? You could win money for college, sure, but you’ll also get experience in the scholarship application process before submitting even more applications your senior year.
I’ve compiled a list of scholarships for high school juniors. This list will be a great place to start, but you may also want to search for more targeted awards (e.g. by geographic area). You can browse the scholarships below based on whether they're competitions or merit-based scholarships. Read to the end for tips and strategies on getting the most scholarship money possible!
Scholarships for Juniors
Are you ready for a little (friendly) competition? It's a win-win! You get application practice, scholarship funding, or both!
If you have a competitive side, these scholarship programs might be just the thing to get you motivated! Whether you're a debate pro or a science nerd, you'll be sure to find a competition that's right up your alley.
Voice of Democracy Scholarship Competition
To compete for this scholarship, applicants write and record minute audio essay on an annual patriotic theme.The 2016-2017 theme was "My Responsibility to America." The theme for 2017-2018 has not yet been posted. The first place winner walks away with a $30,000 scholarship, but runners-up also receive awards; a total of $152,000 in scholarship funding is given out annually. Winners also receive an all-expenses paid trip to Washington DC!
- This scholarship is open to students in grades 9-12
- The submission deadline for 2017-2018 has not yet been posted.
- Learn more about submission here
American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest
Similar to the Voice of Democracy Scholarship Competition, students compete for this scholarship by writing and performing a 3-5 minute oration on some aspect of the US Constitution. You can learn more about this year's assigned topics here.
- This scholarship is open to high school students under 20 years of age
- Deadlines vary by state; check with your local American Legion Department
- Get more information for contests in your state here
The Fountainhead Essay Contest
Are you an Ayn Rand fan? Even if you're not, have you read The Fountainhead for school? Then you've already done the lion's share of the work for this scholarship competition! Students compete for this award by writing an essay on one of three topics related to The Fountainhead- you can check out this year's topics here. The first place winner is awarded a grand prize of $10,000, although runners-up also receive prizes; in total, this program gives out $43,250 annually. (This is a cash prize, so you'll receive the money personally).
- This scholarship is open to students in grades 11-12
- The submission deadline is April 26, 2017.
- Read more about submitting your essay here
Siemens Math, Science, and Technology Award Scholarships
If you're into research projects, you'll love this scholarship program - students compete by completing an individual or team project in the STEM fields. The payout is pretty significant, with national awards ranging from $10,000 - $100,000, and regional awards ranging from $1,000 - $3,000.
- This scholarship is open to US high school students
- The submission deadline for 2016 was September 20, 2016. The 2017 date has not yet been posted.
- Register for the competition here
Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship
This is a smaller scholarship, but it's also pretty easy to compete - all you have to do is write a 250-word personal statement. You can even re-use an essay you wrote for class, for another scholarship, or for a college application! The applicant who submits the highest quality essay wins a $1,000 scholarship, and there may also be smaller awards. (This is a cash prize, so you'll receive the money directly).
- This scholarship is open to US students in grades 9-12
- The submission deadline is July 31, 2017
- Read more about submitting your essay here
John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest
Do you follow US politics? This competition may be the one for you. Students compete by writing an essay on that demonstrates their understanding of JFK's description of political courage. You can get more detailed information on this year's essay topic here. You can even read past winning essays to get an idea of what is expected of applicants. Award amounts for 2017 range from $100 all the way up to $20,000.
- This scholarship is open to US students in grades 9-12
- The submission deadline was January 4, 2017
- Read more about submitting your essay here.
Merit Based Scholarships
Do you fancy yourself a bit of a bookworm?
These scholarships are still competitions in the sense that you and a bunch of other applicants are vying for a limited amount of funds. Instead of being evaluated on your oratorical or scientific acumen, though, you'll be evaluated on personal qualities. Some of these scholarships will really value scholarship whereas others value leadership or community service (or even a combination).
William Randolph Hearst Foundation US Senate Youth Program
This is a bit of a specialty scholarship program—it's meant for students who are serving in student government and plan on taking government courses in college. Applicants are judged on leadership abilities, academics, clear speech, logical thought, community involvement, and extracurriculars. A total of 104 award winners receive $10,000 each, and an all-expenses paid trip to a conference for the award winners in Washington DC.
- This scholarship is open to students in grades 11-12.
- The submission deadline varies by state. The 2017 dates have not yet been posted, but will likely be in the fall (for the 2018 conference and scholarship).
- Read more about the scholarship here.
Carson Scholars Program
To be a competitive applicant for this scholarship, you must demonstrate academic excellence in addition to a dedication to serving your community. There's a minimum GPA eligibility requirement of 3.75 out of 4.00. If you'd like to be considered for this award, you must be nominated by an educator at your school, and only one nomination per school is allowed. Winners receive a $1,000 prize.
- This scholarship is open to students in grades 4-11
- The submission deadline in January 6, 2017.
- Request an application here
National Merit Scholarship
If you're a junior in high school, chances are you've already taken the PSAT. Did you know that just by taking that test, you've started the process of entering yourself into this scholarship competition? Students compete for this award by striving to get a top score on the PSAT (you'd need to get 209 or higher out of 240 on the selection index to qualify). You'd then need to submit an application with some other standard scholarship information - you can read more about how to get the National Merit Scholarship here. Awards of $2,500 are given to 2,500 students every year, with additional awards given by corporate and institutional sponsors.
- This scholarship is open to high school students who have taken the PSAT
- Check out our guides to winning the National Merit Scholarship here and here for more information
Tips for Getting the Most Scholarship Money Possible
Like most things in life, you'll be most successful with your scholarship applications if you employ some solid long-term strategies.
If you're starting the scholarship application process in your junior year, you've got a long road ahead of you. This is a good thing! Scholarship programs have varying requirements, deadlines, and expectations—the earlier you get started, the better chance you have of getting money your junior (and even senior) year.
Do Your Own Research
It's great to get started with these larger national scholarships, but as you might imagine, the competition gets pretty fierce when you're dealing with these noteworthy scholarship programs. Even if you're a very strong applicant for a particular award, chances are you could be a very strong applicant for a particular scholarship and still not win award money if the program is particularly competitive.
The more independent research you do into smaller, tailored scholarship programs, the better your chances of getting funding for school. That isn't to say you shouldn't apply to the big scholarships—you definitely should!—but you should also have some smaller "safety" awards. The more niche a scholarship program, the better chances you'll have of winning an award (if you're a qualified applicant, that is).
So do your own research on scholarships programs that operate in your area, or are offered to students with your particular interests or passions. You can also visit your guidance counselor, who should have more information on local scholarships. Google scholarships in your area—if you have a particular talent, skill, interest, or identity, search for scholarships that are offered to students based on those criteria.
This is another strategy designed to increase your odds of coming out of the process with some extra college money in your pocket. Basically, apply to as many scholarships as possible. Many scholarship applications ask similar questions and require similar information, so if you apply to one program, you may as well apply to several. It's free to apply for most scholarships, so all it takes from you is a few hours of your time. For example, the Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship listed above will let you use a personal statement from class or from another application—you could kill two birds with one stone!
Make Note of Deadlines
Many scholarships are due before you would submit college applications. As such, it's better to start your scholarship search earlier rather than later, so you don't miss out on any great opportunities. This is especially true for scholarships geared towards high school seniors—if you're looking into scholarships now, this is the perfect time to get a jump on some of the bigger scholarships for 12th graders. You can keep track of application deadlines by keeping a spreadsheet that you update regularly. This is especially helpful if applications require you to ask for letters of recommendation—you should always make sure to give teachers and mentors plenty of advance notice to write you a letter.
If you want to get a head start on scoping out scholarships, you should check out our comprehensive guides to winning some of the most competitive national scholarships available. Learn more about the Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Gates Millenium Scholarship, the Walmart Scholarships, and the McDonald's Scholarships.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.