How to Win a Scholarship

Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Gen and Kelly Tanabe

College can be very expensive, but knowing how to win a scholarship - or multiple scholarships - can help students pay for their education without emptying their bank accounts. LoveToKnow College spoke with Gen and Kelly Tanabe, winners of hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships and the authors of books on financial aid, about their successful strategies on winning scholarships.

College Financial Aid Experts: The Tanabes

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the authors of ten books on college admission and financial aid including Get Free Cash for College, 1001 Ways to Pay for College, and The Ultimate Scholarship Book, which are available on their website, SuperCollege.com. Their websites also offers a free, searchable scholarship database. Visitors can also ask Gen and Kelly questions about scholarships and paying for college.

The Interview

LoveToKnow (LTK): How many scholarships did you win to pay for college?

Gen and Kelly (GK): We each won eight to twelve scholarships ranging in value between $500 and $80,000 and totaling more than $100,000.

LTK: What can students look for to find easy scholarships to win?

GK: The best place to look for scholarships that are easy to win is in your own backyard. Local scholarships are the ones that you'll have the best chance of winning because you're not competing against thousands of students from across the country but with hundreds, dozens, or even a handful of students in your own community. Here are some places where you can find local scholarships:

A bunch of money
  • High school counselor
  • College financial aid office
  • High school or college websites
  • Local businesses
  • Local organizations and service groups
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Local newspaper
  • Clubs or organizations that you or your parents are members of
  • Your employer or your parents' employer

LTK: What is the most important thing students can do for finding the best scholarships?

GK: Exhaust every resource! Don't rely on the Internet to neatly deliver every scholarship that you should apply for. It takes a little digging, but by using not only the Internet but books, people, and organizations to find scholarships, you'll find those that best fit you.

LTK: What is the biggest misconception about scholarships?

GK: One of the biggest misconceptions about scholarships is that the only time that you can apply for them is when you are senior in high school. The truth is that there are scholarships for students as young as the seventh grade, students already in college, graduate school students, and adult students. You are never too young or too old to apply for a scholarship!

LTK: Are there unclaimed scholarships students can apply for?

GK: You may hear that there are millions of dollars in unclaimed scholarships. What usually follows this is that if you pay a fee, you will gain access to these unclaimed dollars. Yes, there are some scholarships that go unclaimed. However, many of these awards are very specific such as that you need to have descended from a specific person. In almost every case, you will not qualify for these unclaimed scholarships. If you pay a fee, you'll be wasting your money.

LTK: Why should students apply for unusual scholarships?

GK: There are unusual scholarships such as for speaking Klingon (the fictional language of Star Trek), being skilled at using duct tape, or being tall. If you fit the criteria for these scholarships, by all means, apply! Somebody has to win these scholarships, and you need to apply to be in the running.

What I think these unusual scholarships underscore is the fact that there are scholarships for every background, talent, and achievement. If there are scholarships for being skilled at using duct tape, then you know that there are scholarships for more ordinary backgrounds as well.

LTK: If a student doesn't win a scholarship, what's the next step?

GK: For some scholarships, you're able to apply again the next year. Only do this if you have done something to make yourself a stronger candidate. If your application will be identical, don't waste your time. If you don't want to apply for the same scholarship, try other ones. Try to find scholarships that either fit your strengths better or that have less competition.

LTK: What is your best tip for students applying to win scholarships?

GK: Focus your energies on the essay. Yes, you need to spend some time on the application form itself, but the essay is often what separates the winners from the runners-up. Write a first draft, put it aside for a day or two and then edit it. Ask a friend or family member to read it and give you feedback. Think about what qualities the judges will be looking for when they select the winner, and make sure that your essay demonstrates those characteristics. The majority of students who apply for scholarships spend very little time on the essay, and it shows. Make your application stand out by having an essay that speaks to the judges.

LTK: What resources do you recommend for finding scholarships?

GK: Search for scholarships online on sites such as Supercollge.com, CollegeBoard.com, and Review.com. Purchase or check out from the library books that are scholarship directories or scholarship strategy guides such as The Ultimate Scholarship Book or How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay. Consult with your counselor or financial aid office. If you are in college, speak with someone in your department about scholarships for students in your major.

LoveToKnow College thanks Gen and Kelly Tanabe for sharing their expertise and insight into how to win a scholarship. For more information about the Tanabes' strategies for financial assistance, including an extensive directory of scholarships, visit SuperCollege.com.

How to Win a Scholarship