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For students who are pursuing a Bachelor's degree on a full-time basis, the raw odds of winning a scholarship are about 1 in 8. Some of the more prestigious and lucrative scholarship programs are much more competitive, with odds of about 1 in 250 to 1 in 500. But there are also a variety of less competitive scholarships available.

Some scholarships are less competitive because fewer students qualify for them. These include scholarships with narrow eligibility criteria, such as scholarships with geographic restrictions or which require membership in a particular organization. Examples include awards that are restricted to local residents, such as scholarships sponsored by community foundations or awarded to students who attended a specific high school. Examples of awards that require membership in a particular organization include scholarships restricted to the membership of a local religious institution, ethnic group or cultural organization, and scholarships that require membership in a professional association, fraternity or sorority, or any other type of organization. College-controlled merit awards also tend to be less competitive.

Some scholarships are less competitive because the requirements are more esoteric and specialized. For example, relatively fewer students participate in equestrian sports (including rodeo) and archery. Scholarships for certain majors may also be less competitive, such as agriculture and farming, natural resources, first responders (EMS, police, fire and ambulance), surveying and photogrammetry, national security, and risk management, insurance and actuarial science programs. Scholarships that may be used only for a restricted purpose (e.g., study abroad in an unpopular country) are also less competitive.

Some scholarships are less competitive because fewer qualified students apply for them. Many students will refuse to apply for small scholarships because it doesn't cover all the college costs. It seems strange to turn down free money, but scholarships that do not specify an award amount or where the award amount is less than $1,000 are much less competitive than scholarships that offer thousands of dollars to the winner. Students also seem to dismiss essay, art and poetry competitions.

Some scholarships are less competitive because the sponsors do not publicize the opportunities well. For example, some small local awards deliberately avoid being listed in any of the national scholarship databases because they do not want to be inundated with too many qualified applicants.

Lessons Learned: Apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible, no matter how small (or how large). Every dollar you win in scholarships is a dollar less you have to borrow. Your chances of winning a small scholarship are greater than your chances of winning a more lucrative scholarship because they are less competitive. But winning several small scholarships can add up to big money. It also gives you practice for the bigger awards and provides you with credentials to add to subsequent applications. Essays can often be reused on multiple scholarship applications with slight tweaks, saving you a lot of time. Winning a scholarship is a mark of excellence, indicating that someone thought it worthwhile to invest their money in your future.

Be thorough in searching for scholarships. Besides the free online scholarship matching services like FastWeb, ask every organization with which you are associated whether they offer scholarships. These include you and your parents employers, unions and fraternal organizations, religious organizations, ethnic groups, cultural organizations, volunteer groups, clubs, your local PTA and your high school. Ask local businesses, such as community banks, grocery stores, bowling alleys and any other business that is not part of a national chain, whether they sponsor scholarships for local students. The chamber of commerce might have information about local businesses that award scholarships. Also ask your high school guidance counselor and the financial aid administrators at nearby colleges about small local awards.

 

 
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