1. Plan to apply for as many scholarships as possible
Some students make the mistake of thinking that they maximize their chances of winning by pouring all of their energy into one or two scholarships.
But applying for scholarships is partially a numbers game. A variety of factors outside of your control affect the outcome of any given award. Only by applying for large numbers of scholarships can you minimize such factors, and maximize your chances of winning. In my own scholarship quest, I ended up applying for about three dozen awards.
Even if the scholarship prize is only a couple of hundred dollars, I still recommend entering the contest. This might not sound like much in the context of an entire college tuition bill, but the extra cash can help cover the cost of books for a term, or help pay for that spring break "research" trip to Cancun.
In addition, winning smaller awards provides you with additional credentials that you can include in applications for larger scholarships.
2. Develop a suite of generic reusable materials
When applying for large numbers of scholarships, creating a suite of generic reusable materials saves a great deal of time and energy. By having this suite to draw from, you will be able to focus less on just completing application requirements, and more on customizing and fine-tuning the material you've already prepared.
More than just a reduction in your workload, reusing and rethinking old materials can mean vast improvements as you repeatedly refine and edit the same work. By employing this strategy, you gain the opportunity to fine-tune your materials with every submission. And take it from me—your tenth draft will be far better than your first.
To create this suite of generic materials, first seek to develop standard essay responses to perennial scholarship application themes—such old favorites as college plans, career goals, and future contributions to society.
Next, survey the scholarship landscape and isolate common themes and requirements (whether it is a similar essay question or a comparable extracurricular activity worksheet). Attempt to bridge multiple applications with every sentence you write or form you prepare.
Also, go back into your archive of old scholarship applications (you'll develop one quickly) and try to recycle essays and other past materials. Don't just recopy such passages verbatim; instead, try to rethink, improve, and hone everything to fit the criteria of each new contest.
3. Leverage schoolwork and class time
If you have to do the schoolwork anyway, why not make it count toward your scholarship quest? For example, if you're asked to write an essay on a book of your choosing, you may want to select The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. This way, you'll have a submission ready to go for the annual essay contest on this famous novel. If you're assigned a self-reflective essay, pick a personal topic that fits in well with scholarship applications you're pursuing. Moreover, teachers can serve as a helpful source of early feedback for these potential scholarship submissions.
This technique isn't restricted merely to classroom assignments. Most schools offer some type of independent study credit, in which you can pursue your own project under the guidance of an adviser. At many schools, you're even allowed to use a class period during the day to pursue this work. Use the time to complete self-initiated projects that add to your record and improve your chances of scholarship (and college admission) success.
4. Learn from past scholarship winners
In playing the scholarship game, it's extremely useful to have a roadmap of what it takes to win. To obtain this roadmap, make a point of reviewing past winning applications, essays and other materials. Many times, you can request sample winning entries from the organization administering the scholarship program.
In addition, it's useful to interview past winners of scholarships you plan to enter. Ask them about their unique qualifications, the approach they took in filling out applications, and any insights they have about particular scholarship contests you're planning to enter. Many scholarship contests will provide a list of past winners upon request. The best way to master the scholarship game is to learn from those who have played it well.