Many students think that they should begin looking at college scholarships once they actually start applying to college—so some time early 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 on applying for scholarship awards? You could win money for college, sure, but you'll also get experience with the scholarship application process before submitting even more applications during your senior year.
We've compiled a list of scholarships for high school juniors. This list will be a great place to start, but you might 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. And be sure to read to the end for tips and strategies on getting the most scholarship money possible!
Essay- and Project-Based Scholarships for Juniors
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 lover of politics, you're sure to find a competition right up your alley.
Are you ready for a little (friendly) competition? It's a win-win! You can get application practice, scholarship funding, or both!
Voice of Democracy Scholarship Competition
To compete for this scholarship, applicants write and record an audio essay on an annual patriotic theme. The 2022-2023 theme for the competition is "Why is the Veteran Important?" The first-place winner walks away with a $35,000 scholarship, but runners-up receive awards, too. A total of $2 million in funding is given out annually in the form of additional, smaller awards between $1,000-$16,000.
- Eligibility: Students in grades 9-12
- Deadline: October 31, 2022
American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest
Similar to the Voice of Democracy Scholarship Competition, students compete for this scholarship by writing and performing an eight- to 10-minute oration on some aspect of the US Constitution, in addition to giving a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic. First place takes home $25,000, second place gets $22,500, and third place wins $20,000. Smaller prizes are also awarded to state winners. You can check out this year's topics on the official website.
- Eligibility: US high school students under 20 years of age
- Deadline: Varies by state, as contests are arranged by local American Legion departments
The Fountainhead Essay Contest
Are you an Ayn Rand fan? Or 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. The first-place winner is awarded a grand prize of $5,000, though runners-up also get prizes. This is a cash prize, so you'll receive the money directly.
- Eligibility: Students in grades 11-12
- Deadline: April 27, 2023
Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship
This is a smaller scholarship, but it's also pretty easy to compete for—all you have to do is write a 250-word personal statement. You can even reuse an essay you wrote for class, another scholarship, or a college application. Even if your grades aren’t great, it doesn’t matter—this scholarship is all about the quality of your writing. The applicant who submits the highest-quality essay will win a $1,000 scholarship.
- Eligibility: US students in grades 9-12
- Deadline: July 31 and December 31
John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest
Do you follow US politics? Then this competition might be the one for you. Students compete by writing an essay that demonstrates their understanding of political courage as described by JFK. For the 2023 contest, applicants are asked to describe and analyze an act of political courage by a US elected official who served during or after 1917. For inspiration, read past winning essays to get an idea of what's expected of applicants. Award amounts range from $100 all the way up to $10,000.
- Eligibility: US students in grades 9-12
- Deadline: January 13, 2023
Do you fancy yourself a bit of a bookworm?
Merit-Based Scholarships for Juniors
These scholarships are still competitions in that you and a bunch of other applicants are vying for a limited amount of funds. But instead of being evaluated on your oratorical writing or scientific acumen, you'll be judged on personal qualities. Some of these scholarships heavily value scholarship, whereas others value leadership or community service (or even a combination of both!).
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 leadership positions in student government or organizations related to education, public health, or community service, and plan on taking government courses in college. Applicants are judged on their leadership abilities, academics, clear speech, logical thought, community involvement, and extracurriculars. A total of 108 award winners receive $10,000 each, as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to a conference in Washington, DC, during which they get to meet senators and other political officials.*
- Eligibility: Students in grades 11-12
- Deadline: Varies by state
*NOTE: In the interest of health and safety for all participants, students must be fully vaccinated to serve as a delegate in Washington, D.C. Schedules for full vaccination series can be seen here. Selected students who are not vaccinated will have adequate time to complete the full vaccination series of two vaccine doses and be confirmed ready for service, prior to the program deadline of February 1, 2023. Students may not serve as delegates to an in-person program or receive the scholarship if they fail to meet this requirement. Reasonable accommodation requests will be considered.
Carson Scholars Program
To be a competitive applicant for this scholarship, you must demonstrate academic excellence and strong dedication to community service. The minimum GPA eligibility requirement is 3.75/4.00. 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. Each winner receives a $1,000 prize. Schools can request an application here. If you’d like to compete for this scholarship, be sure to talk to a teacher or counselor at your school.
- Eligibility: Students in grades 4-11
- Deadline: N/A (students do not enter the program but are nominated by their school)
National Merit Scholarship
If you're a junior in high school, you may have already taken the PSAT/NMSQT. But did you know that by just taking the test, you've already started the process of entering this scholarship competition? Students compete for this award by striving to get a top PSAT score (depending on your state, you'll need a Selection Index score of 212 or higher to qualify). You must then submit an application with other standard scholarship information.
The competition gives out $2,500 awards to about 7,600 students every year (with corporate and institutional sponsors giving out additional awards). If you’re interested in participating, you’ll need to talk to your counselor at the beginning of the school year to make arrangements to take the test (test registration is done by the high school, not by individual students). For more info, check out our guide to winning the National Merit Scholarship.
- Eligibility: 11th graders who have taken the PSAT/NMSQT (10th graders may take the PSAT but are ineligible for the scholarship unless they will be graduating a year early)
- Deadline: N/A (you are automatically entered upon taking the PSAT in 11th grade)
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Like most things in life, you'll be most successful with your scholarship applications if you employ some solid long-term strategies.
3 Tips for Getting the Most Scholarship Money Possible
If you're starting the scholarship application process in 11th grade, you've got a long road ahead of you. But this is a good thing! Scholarship programs have varying requirements, deadlines, and expectations, so the earlier you get started, the better chance you'll have of winning some money.
Below are our top three tips to help you get the most scholarship money you can as a junior.
#1: Do Your Own Research
It's great to get started with larger national scholarships, but as you might imagine, competition gets pretty fierce when it comes to such prestigious programs. You could be a very strong applicant for a particular scholarship and still not make the cut–not for lack of merit or lack of effort, but simply because so many other people applied.
The more independent research you do into smaller, tailored scholarship programs, the better your chances will be 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 keep some smaller "safety" awards on hand. The more niche a scholarship program is, the better your chances of winning (assuming you're a qualified applicant).
Therefore, do your own research on scholarship programs that operate in your area or are offered to students with your particular interests and passions. The easiest way to do this is to search online for scholarships in your area. If you have a particular talent, skill, interest, or identity, look for scholarships that are offered to students based on those criteria.
You can also talk with your school's guidance counselor, who should have more information about local scholarships and how to apply for them.
#2: Apply Broadly
This is another strategy to increase your odds of earning some extra college money in your pocket. Basically, apply for as many scholarships as possible.
Many scholarship applications ask similar questions and require similar information, so if you apply to one program, you might 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 even another application, meaning you can kill two birds with one stone!
#3: Make Note of Deadlines
Many scholarships are due before 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 toward high school seniors. If you're looking into scholarships now, this is the perfect time to get a jump-start on some of the bigger scholarships for 12th graders.
You can keep track of application deadlines by maintaining a spreadsheet that you update regularly. This is especially helpful if applications require you to ask for letters of recommendation. In that case, be sure to give your teachers and mentors plenty of advance notice to write you a letter.
Want to get a head start on scoping out scholarships? Then check out our comprehensive guides to winning some of the most competitive national scholarships available. Learn more about the Coca-Cola Scholarship, the Gates Scholarship, the Walmart Scholarships, and the McDonald's Scholarships.
Got a super high SAT or ACT score? Then you might be interested in learning how to apply for college scholarships based on your SAT/ACT scores.
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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.