Cost will likely play a part in deciding which college you’ll attend. Fortunately, many scholarships can give you the financial support to attend whichever institution you’d like. Keep in mind, too, that the benefits to these scholarships extend beyond the financial support. You’ll also gain a network of alumni who are leading positive change around the world. Furthermore, the academic counseling and career guidance you’ll receive are invaluable.
Timeline of Scholarships
Most applications are due in the Fall, and the winners are announced in the Spring. Since you won’t know how many scholarships you’ve won until they’re no longer available, you should apply to many (yes, you’ll be adding these scholarship applications on top of your normal college applications due in the Fall and don’t forget to maximize your performance on the ACT and SAT too). Most application deadlines have a submission period at least a month long, but I recommend you get started as soon as the applications become available.
Going into your senior year, you should have two recommendations from teachers who have (preferably) taught you in your junior year. They will have to submit the recommendations each time you apply for a different scholarship, so tell them about the scholarships beforehand. Also, make sure you have your family’s financial records prepared for when the application requests proof of your financial need. The strength of your application will be directly correlated to your proactiveness!
Similar Eligibility Requirements Among Scholarships
Many of the top college scholarships have similar eligibility requirements.
- Cumulative, unweighted 3.0 GPA
- Demonstrated financial need
- Contribution to your community
- Evidence of facing and overcoming significant struggle
Any deviations from these expectations (e.g., requiring a 3.5 instead of a 3.0) are discussed individually for each scholarship in the list below.
TOP 9 COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS
1. The Gates Scholarship (Opens July 14; Closes September 15)
Gates offers a prestigious full-ride scholarship for exceptional, Pell-eligible, minority, high school seniors. Each year 300 students are selected. From the ~30,000 applicants, 600 are offered an interview based on the merits of their applications. Then, an interview decides the 300 winners. The scholarship covers tuition, books, and other fees.
Link to scholarship details: https://www.thegatesscholarship.org/scholarship
2. Horatio Alger Association Scholarships (Opens August 1; Closes October 25)
The Horatio Alger Association grants 60 competitive state scholarships (up to $10,000 each) and 106 national scholarships ($25,000 each). The program targets high school students who have faced and overcome great obstacles. Scholarships are funded by members of the Horatio Alger Association who experienced challenges but ultimately overcame them to become successful business and civic leaders. To apply, your adjusted gross family income must be $55,000 or lower.
Link to scholarship details: https://scholars.horatioalger.org/scholarships/about-our-scholarship-programs/
3. Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship (Opens mid-September; Closes mid-November)
Jack Kent Cooke offers a prestigious scholarship that awards college scholars up to $40,000 per year, college planning support, ongoing advising, and the opportunity to network with the larger Cooke Scholar community. In 2018, they awarded 100 scholarships. To apply, your adjusted gross family income must be $95,000 or lower. Most recipients are expected to be eligible to receive a Pell Grant.
The academic requirements for this scholarship are more competitive than for others:
- cumulative unweighted GPA of 3.5 or above,
- standardized test scores in the top 15%: SAT combined critical reading and math score of 1200 or above or ACT composite score of 26 or above
Link to scholarship details: https://www.jkcf.org/our-scholarships/college-scholarship-program/
4. Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Scholarship (Opens August 15; Closes November 15)
The Most Valuable Student scholarship contest is open to any high school senior who is a US Citizen. 500 winners are awarded anywhere from $4,000-50,000. This is one of the shortest applications, and it bears great rewards.
Link to scholarship details: https://www.elks.org/scholars/scholarships/MVS.cfm
5. Coca-Cola Scholarship (Opens early August – Closes September)
This selective $20,000 scholarship is earned by 150 graduating high school seniors each year.
Link to scholarship details: https://www.coca-colascholarsfoundation.org/apply/
6. Ron Brown Scholarship (Opens July 1; Closes November 1st for priority and January 1st with no priority)
This selective scholarship program awards four-year $40,000 scholarships ($10,000 each year) to the most talented and economically-challenged African American high school seniors who demonstrate interest in public service, community engagement, business entrepreneurship, and global citizenship.
Link to scholarship details: https://www.ronbrown.org/section/apply/program-description
7. Edison International Scholarship (Reopens in the fall)
Each year, Edison International awards $40,000 scholarships to 30 high school seniors committed to making a difference in the world by studying science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) in college. Note that applicants must live within Southern California Edison’s service territory.
Link to scholarship details: https://www.edison.com/home/community/edison-scholars.html
8. Davidson Fellows Scholarship (Reopens in the fall; Closes February 14)
Considered one of the most prestigious scholarships for students going to college, the Davidson Fellows Scholarship awards $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000 scholarships to those, 18 and under, who’ve completed a significant piece of work, defined as “an accomplishment that experts in the field recognize as meaningful and that has the potential to make a positive contribution to society.”
Link to scholarship details: https://www.davidsongifted.org/Fellows-Scholarship
9. Dell Scholarship (Opens November 1; Closes January 15)
This prestigious scholarship awards $20,000, a laptop, and textbook credits. Counseling is also provided. The requirement that may prevent many from applying is participation in a program-approved college readiness program in grades 11 and 12.
Link to scholarship details: https://www.dellscholars.org/scholarship/
My Advice on Receiving These Scholarships
Essays and recommendations will make all the difference — give them priority. Your writing should be reviewed, and your recommendations should be requested of those who understand and value your character. I am convinced that my ability to proceed further in the scholarship pools and win was due to my essays.
Don’t get discouraged and avoid applying. Organizations and colleges understand that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may be unable to afford tutoring. As a result, qualities and experiences demonstrating perseverance are highly valued. Many scholarships consider your financial background and merit. Of the top nine scholarships listed above, several target students without the necessary means to pay for college.
I recommend approaching each essay like a personal statement. Unsure on how to write your essay? Review some tips for putting together a compelling personal statement.
Most importantly, apply to many scholarships. You may think that you’ve applied to enough to financially secure your education, but the network benefits are invaluable. Many scholarships share similar essay questions, so applying for scholarships becomes easier over time. Go get started; good luck!
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