Applying for scholarships can be stressful and time-consuming, especially if you’re looking at really competitive awards. Wouldn’t it be nice to apply for scholarships that you knew you had a really good shot at winning?
If you want to get your hands on some easy scholarship money, you’re in the right place. First, I’ll talk a little bit about what it means to be an easy-to-win scholarship. Then, I’ll get to the good stuff by directing you to the places you should look for these awards - you might be surprised at where you can find them - and how to put together a successful application.
What Makes a Scholarship Easy to Win?
With many of the popular national scholarships (like the Gates Millennium or Coca-Cola awards), you’re competing with several thousands of applicants for very large sums of money. Even if you’re a great student, and you meet all the qualifications, your chances of winning the scholarship will be pretty slim just due to the sheer number of students applying.
When we talk about easy scholarships to win, we’re talking about scholarships where you have a much better chance of walking away with some money (even if the amount is relatively small).
There are very few scholarships where an award is guaranteed as long as you meet all award criteria (although they do exist - I’ll get to them later). Ultimately, you can’t count 100% on winning most scholarships, but you can look for scholarships where your chances of winning are at least higher than average.
A Small Note: Easy to Win Vs. Easy to Apply
There are a ton of scholarships out there with very short, simple, easy applications. Although it’s smart to apply to scholarships like these - it’s not like you’re wasting much time or energy on the application - an easy application is not the same as an easy win.
These super simple apps likely attract a ton of applicants. It’s like playing the lottery (except for free) - it doesn’t hurt, but it’s not like you can count on the winnings.
Finally, if you come across a scholarship application that's too good to be true, it probably is. If a scholarship organization purports to guarantee winnings to applicants - especially if the application asks you to submit sensitive information (like your SSN) or even payment - it's probably a scam.
Be careful about giving out sensitive information - make sure that your applications are going to legitimate organizations
As you may have realized by now, there is no short list of easy scholarships to win for all students. In order to find such scholarships, you'll have to do a bit of legwork. These next three steps will walk you through everything you need to know about finding (and winning) easy awards.
Step #1: Apply for Niche Awards
One of the best ways to find easy scholarships to win is to look for awards with small, niche applicant pools. The smaller the group of potential applicants, the less competition you have to deal with.
Scholarships that are primarily looking for students with impressive grades and leadership potential are not what we’re talking about here (although that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply to those scholarships). You might have to spend some time thinking about what your “niche” might be, but trust me - this time will be well spent.
You can start by thinking about unique interests/skills, backgrounds, and club/group affiliations you have. You’ll find many niche scholarships targeted towards students who meet these more specific criteria. For example, the College Board’s scholarship search begins with a survey based on many of the criteria listed below - if you identify with any of the items listed below, you may find better and more specific niche scholarship matches.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it covers the most important bases. You can either use these search terms in scholarship-specific search tools or in Google to find award matches.
Here’s your preliminary brainstorming list for niche awards:
Special Interests or Skills
- Arts: music, dance, other visual arts
- Community service
- Civil rights or social justice activities
- Ethnic or racial background
- Religious background
- Physical or learning disability
- Health conditions
- Personal/family veteran status
Specific Club or Group Affiliation
There are way too many to list, but a few examples on the College Board scholarship search include:
- Society of Women Engineers
- Native Daughters of the Golden West
- Eagle Scouts
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Step #2: Apply for Local Scholarships
Local scholarships are niche by definition - they’re only really meant for students living in your particular area. They’re often smaller and less competitive than the big national awards, which means your chances of walking away with winnings are much better.
Narrowing your geographic focus also means narrowing your competition
You can search for local awards in a few different ways:
- Online scholarship search tools - This is the easiest way to get instant access to massive amounts of data. Enter geographic info into scholarship-specific search tools, and Google “[your hometown/county/state] scholarship” to find the most popular results.
- Your guidance or college counselor - They tend to be plugged into local scholarship programs, and they may even serve as a reference or letter-writer for recommendations.
- Local community or cultural centers - These are hubs of local activity that may have info on local scholarship programs. They may even offer scholarships themselves!
Want more detailed information? We have a whole guide to finding and winning local awards.
Step #3: Check Out "Guaranteed" Scholarships
Guaranteed scholarships are awards that you’ll win no matter what, as long as you meet all of the eligibility requirements. Many of these requirements include strict academic criteria (e.g. minimum standardized test scores, GPA).
There are quite a few colleges and universities that give out these guaranteed merit awards if you’re 1) accepted to the school, and 2) have those minimum test scores or GPA. Often, your college app is considered your scholarship app - you’ll be automatically considered for awards when you apply to the school. Sometimes, you’ll have to check out schools’ merit awards on your own and submit separate applications.
To get more information, you’ll need to have a specific school in mind. Here are the steps you should take to look up possible merit awards at a particular school:
- Google “[school name] merit scholarships” - most schools have a separate page designated just for these sorts of scholarship awards.
- Make sure the scholarships you find are designated for “entering freshman” - some awards may be meant only for upperclassmen or grad students.
- Check to see if the school makes a designation between in-state and out-of-state applicants (many public colleges and universities do). Some state schools will give bigger scholarships to non-resident applicants if out-of-state tuition is higher.There may also be differences in award requirements.
- Finally, check to see if there is a separate application (separate from your college app, that is) or unique deadline. Scholarship money is often limited, so you might help your chances of winning cash by applying earlier.
To read more about schools that offer money based on academic performance, read our guide on guaranteed scholarships based on ACT/SAT scores.
Closing the Deal: Put Together an Awesome Application
Once you’ve found the most promising easy-to-win scholarships, you’ll want to follow through by submitting the best applications possible. Here are the most important steps to putting together a winning scholarship application:
- Make sure you meet all eligibility criteria. Miss just one and you’re likely wasting your time by submitting a full application. Some common requirements to look out for include class year, financial need, minimum GPA, and minimum SAT/ACT scores.
- Ask yourself if you’re a good fit. This is often the difference between a low and high likelihood of winning an award. Are you the target audience here, or do you just technically qualify for the scholarship?
- Emphasize your ideological ties to the scholarship program (and your ties to the community, if applicable). How do your values align with that of the scholarship program? How are you an active participant in that community, geographic or otherwise? You’re more likely to win if your values and goals are congruent with those of the scholarship organization.
- Complete ALL PARTS of the application. Before you even start an app, make sure you’ll be able to provide all the documentation that the scholarship asks for. Plan on submitting the app in the exact way that’s asked of you (whether that’s via email, fax, snail mail, etc.).
- Make sure to meet the deadline. Submit a late application and you’re likely to be disqualified. On the off chance that your application isn't automatically tossed, late submission will definitely not make a good first impression. Don’t wait until the last day to actually send the paperwork in (just in case you run into technical or logistical issues).
Looking for other ways to make your scholarship search a bit easier? We've got you covered.
Start off by checking out scholarships with super simple applications.
Next, check out our other top scholarship guides: top awards for high freshmen/sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
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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.