Frequently Asked Questions About Winning Scholarships

Get a quick overview of the scholarship process by viewing this video. The following questions and answers are based on “A Burning Question” special sections in Winning Scholarships for College.



How can I get more help with finding scholarships?

To get additional help finding scholarships, see this page or consider one of our online classes for help from Marianne Ragins, $400,000 scholarship winner. Do you have any scholarship advice for students? Visit our Scholarship Advice for Students page to learn more about the scholarship process.

When are interviews required for scholarships?

Interviews are normally required for the largest scholarship competitions that award the most money. One example would be a full ride scholarship. Some colleges and universities may also require an interview as part of their  scholarship and award process. For smaller scholarships, usually for $2500 or lower, you probably will not have to  interview.

Can I recycle scholarship essays?

If you have already written general essays about your future career goals or to describe yourself, there is a good chance that you can use parts and pieces of these essays in most of the essays you write later. Marianne Ragins recycled portions of several essays in her winning scholarship search. For smaller and community based scholarship programs and some college and university applications, you may be able to choose your own essay topic. If this is the case, you can reuse previously written descriptive essays about you, your interests, or your career goals.

When can I apply for scholarships?

For many scholarship programs you can’t actually apply until you are a high school senior. However there are some that you can apply for in your junior year or before. It is important to know the requirements and deadlines when applying for college scholarships. The most important thing you should remember is to be prepared to submit applications early in your senior year by doing most of your research as a junior or during the summer before your senior year. And, don’t ignore scholarship and award opportunities as a 9th, 10th, or 11th grade student. Scholarships available to you in these grades are identified in Senior Year Head Start and in Winning Scholarships for College.

Why is the PSAT such a big deal? When should I take it?

Taking the PSAT and scoring well can get you noticed by the National Merit Scholarship Program. You should take the PSAT in October of junior year in order to qualify for these programs. The PSAT is normally administered by the high school you attend. Back to top

If I take the PSAT, what score will definitely win me a scholarship?

Since the top scorers of all those who take the PSAT become semi-finalists in the scholarship competition, there is no specific score that will definitely win you a scholarship. It depends on how well others do who take the test also. In addition, to become a finalist, you must complete other eligibility requirements. Back to top

When should I take the SAT or the ACT?

If possible, you should take both tests in your junior year or before so you will have enough time to improve your weak areas and retake one or both of the tests again. Back to top

When should I start preparing for the SAT or ACT?

Since you have about three to four weeks from the time you register for the test and when you actually have to take the exam, you should register for a test date at least two months in advance. During the time you have after registration and before the test you should prepare for the exam as much as possible. Don’t make the mistake of showing up for the test just to see how well you can do, even if it is your first time. Back to top

Should I take the SAT and the ACT?

Yes! You should take both tests. Since the ACT more closely assesses what you have learned and are currently learning in high school, your scores may be higher on this test. On the other hand, if your critical thinking skills are well-developed you may do better on the SAT. Take both tests so you can find out for yourself. Based on your scores, you can determine which score you can improve if you decide to retake one of them. Back to top

What if I can’t afford the fees for the SAT and the ACT?

You may be able to obtain fee waivers for a portion of the SAT and ACT fees. See the counselor at your high school for additional information. Back to top

Why are credit cards a bad idea for funding my education?

If you’re thinking of using a credit card to pay for your college tuition, DON’T. Unless you have a 0% offer from your credit card company that will last until you can repay the debt, the interest rate on an education loan, either through the government or a lending agency such as Sallie Mae, is usually lower. Not only that, most education loans allow you to defer payment until you graduate or stop attending college. Back to top

Do not wait until spring of your senior year. Start as soon as senior year begins if you haven’t started before!!!!! You can even start researching scholarships as early as ninth grade since there are some you can win as a freshman, sophomore, or junior. For those that require you to be a senior, request applications early and look carefully at them. Doing so can you help you see areas the scholarship programs emphasize. It could be grades, certain extracurricular activities, test scores, or community service. On the other hand, they may focus entirely on the essay. See if you can get information about past essay questions and winners. If the essay questions only change slightly each year, you can begin to work on your answers years ahead of time. If they focus more on community service, that’s an area you can also start to work on by starting to participate and help out in your community. If you’ve gotten beyond the 9th or 10th grades, you should start intensive scholarship during your eleventh grade year. Many of the largest scholarship programs have deadlines early in a student’s senior year such as October or November. If you’re a senior who hasn’t already started your search this period could make you frantic. So, researching and getting applications before your senior year begins will give you time to focus on submitting an outstanding application and more time to enjoy all the fun of being a senior.

When are most scholarship deadlines?

For the largest scholarship programs that award the most money, for example, $20,000, $40,000 and up, the deadlines will occur early in your senior year. This means that you should be prepared to start submitting applications in October, November, and December of your senior year. If you wait until March, April, May or later, the scholarship amounts start to get smaller and by the end of spring many deadlines will have passed except for some small community based programs.

My counselor says since I’m a junior that I should wait until senior year to take the SAT and the ACT. Should I wait this long?

If possible, you should take the SAT late in your junior year. Doing so will give you an opportunity to assess areas in which you didn’t do well and possibly take improvement courses or use preparation books to help increase your score. This will give you time to retake the test early in your senior year and have scores ready to send to colleges in which you’re interested. On the other hand, if you do well the first time you take the test in your junior year, you can relax all during your senior year knowing that one major task is behind you. Since the ACT assesses more of what you have actually learned in high school, you may want to wait until senior year to take it. To get a better idea of whether you really should wait, take one or two of the practice actual ACT tests. If you do well, then proceed with taking the ACT as a junior also.

Starting your research before you get into high school may be too early for some. However, if you do, you’ll have a great database to start with as a senior. You can also prepare yourself early by starting to participate in activities that interest you and that you will continue to pursue in high school. You can also take the PSAT early to start preparing for October of eleventh grade when it will really count for scholarship consideration. Or you might even decide to take the SAT or ACT early. For students who participate in certain Educational Talent Search (ETS) programs, taking the SAT during your seventh grade year could win you a one-course summer scholarship at participating universities such as Duke or John Hopkins.

Yes. If you’re hoping to win a full ride scholarship, late spring and early summer of your senior year is too late. Scholarships are still available at this time and may be easier to win, so they shouldn’t be ignored but the amounts you can win will be smaller. All hope isn’t lost though. You can still win scholarships if you’re already enrolled in college.

How many scholarships should I apply for?

You should apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible. Applying for two or three of the most competitive scholarships is not enough. Keep applying for scholarships and awards until your winning total has reached a point where you are assured that your entire undergraduate college education will be covered. Although this may sound like a lot of work, it doesn’t have to be. If you get organized for the scholarship application process, it will be much easier for you to apply for numerous scholarships. Read “Getting Organized” in Winning Scholarships for College for more information. Back to top

What if I don’t have financial need? Can I still win scholarships?

Yes. You can still win money for college, especially merit based scholarships. In addition, the amount of your financial need will really depend upon the institution you’ve decided to attend and/or the organization to which you are applying. Don’t assume you don’t have financial need until you investigate further.