How Financial Aid Applications Work

Preparing to Apply for Financial Aid

A search may point you toward dozens or more scholarships for which you qualify. Before you begin applying, you'll want to sort them out. Look at the amount of each award, how likely you are to win it, how much work is involved in applying and when the deadline is. You should try to apply for every scholarship and grant you're eligible for. Don't neglect the smaller awards -- they may be less competitive than larger ones.

Next, get organized. Begin by preparing your resume. This will be a complete list of academic, professional and volunteer achievements and should include the following:

  • Education
  • Academic awards
  • Other honors
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Work experience
  • Volunteer and community service
  • Skills and hobbies -- anything from gardening to car mechanics
  • Travel experiences
  • Accomplishments -- it might be starting a business or raising children

Gathering all this information in one place will make it easier to fill out application forms. You will also want to create a summary of financial information for yourself and your family, and have an up-to-date copy of your school transcript ready.

Also, some scholarship applications may require an essay, so prepare a personal statement before you begin the application process (about 500 words is a typical length). You may have to modify its length or emphasis for individual scholarships, but having the basic ideas and wording prepared is easier than starting from scratch with each application. We'll cover essays more in the following pages.

Applications come in a variety of formats. These days, most are available online. Some grants have no formal application form but require only the submission of an essay. For all applications, read the instructions and make up a checklist including the materials you'll need to submit and when the deadline is.

When applying for a private, merit-based scholarship, think about who is giving out the money. For example, an award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars is likely to be determined by an older panel of judges. The David Letterman Scholarship at Ball State University, on the other hand, which an emphasis on creativity, is judged by telecommunications faculty and grad students [source: Ball State University]. Keep the judge and the purpose of the award in mind when applying.

Next we'll talk about the heart of the matter, filling out the application.